Carver was born into a poverty-stricken family at the tail-end of the Depression. He married at 19, started a series of menial jobs and his own career of ‘full-time drinking as a serious pursuit’, a career that would eventually kill him. Constantly struggling to support his wife and family, Carver enrolled in a writing programme under author John Gardner in 1958. He saw this opportunity as a turning point. Rejecting the more experimental fiction of the 60s and 70s, he pioneered a precisionist realism reinventing the American short story during the eighties, heading the line of so-called ‘dirty realists’ or ‘K-mart realists’. Set in trailer parks and shopping malls, they are stories of banal lives that turn on a seemingly insignificant detail. Carver writes with meticulous economy,
suddenly bringing a life into focus in a similar way to the paintings of Edward Hopper. As well as being a master of the short story, he was an accomplished poet publishing several highly acclaimed volumes. After the ‘line of demarcation’ in Carver’s life – 2 June 1977, the day he stopped drinking – his stories become increasingly more redemptive and expansive. Alcohol had eventually shattered his health, his work and his family – his first marriage effectively ending in 1978. He finally married his long-term parter Tess Gallagher (they met ten years earlier at a writers’ conference in Dallas) in Reno, Nevada, less than two months before he eventually lost his fight with cancer.