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A Raymond Carver biography

BY REBECCA KOONS | MARCH 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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Writing is serious business for Carol Sklenicka.

The Santa Maria, Calif., native is passionate about what she does, and she especially encourages young writers to be the same way. To “be sure you want to do this and write things you really care about” is a piece of advice she not only gives but practices in her career in the art.

“Writing isn’t a lifestyle. It’s hard work,” she said.

Sklenicka will read from that biography, Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life, at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., at 7 p.m. Friday. Admission is free.

A reading of a biography tends to go in a more interactive direction than that of a novel, Paul Ingram of Prairie Lights said.

“If an author reads a piece of a novel, most haven’t read it, so what are they going to ask?” he said. “With a biography, which is all fact, it gives people more of a chance to ask, ‘What else?’ or where the author got the information.”

Carver was a short-story writer and poet, considered by many in the literary world to be the pre-eminent short-story writer in the ’80s. Sklenicka’s decision to write a book on his life stemmed from her curiosity about his personal life as well as her huge admiration for his work.

“I may have imagined that my life resembled his when I started because we are both from the West Coast and were both the first in our families to go to college, but in the end, I think his life was both more difficult and more driven than mine,” she said.

Writing a biography comes with a set of challenges different from the short stories, essays, and other works Sklenicka has written. The amount of research required to draw a well-rounded portrayal of a person must be balanced with not inventing anything for the sake of the story. Yet, there remains the task of creating a narrative with a smooth, readable flow.

The tests such writing present also proved to be the most rewarding for Sklenicka. The chance to meet with those who knew Carver and find a connection with those people offered a wide sampling.

From small- and big-time editors to Carver’s aunt and even a physicist, it was evident that Carver had touched the lives of many.

“Ray’s circle of acquaintances knew no boundaries of geography or class, it seems,” Sklenicka said.
Ingram was particularly impressed by just how many acquaintances of Carver’s Sklenicka met, saying the book is a “serious piece of research” on her part, noting that her story of Carver’s life provides all kinds of different opinions and notions about him.

In chronicling the life of a gifted writer such as Carver, Sklenicka ultimately hopes to increase attention and appreciation for his work, and she hopes readers come away with a fresh perspective on Carver as the man.

“It’s a book for young writers, certainly, because from it they will find out how much struggle Carver was willing to go through to do his work and how much his family sacrificed so he could do that.”


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