What It Used To Be Like: a Portrait of My Marriage to Raymond Carver

Posted on: Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - 2:05pm

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What It Used To Be Like: a Portrait of My Marriage to Raymond Carver
By Maryann Burk Carver
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2006

Special Collections -- Northwest Collection -- PS3553.A7894 Z595 2006 (1st ed., signed)

The recent appearance of a new biography of Raymond Carver, as well as fresh speculation about the involvement of his editor in shaping his work has once again piqued interest in this prodigiously gifted author who lived and died hard in the Pacific Northwest. This book is a poignant memoir by Carver's first wife, Maryann Burk, whose role in the realization of Carver's unique genius has been treated inconsistently by biographers and critics alike.

Born into a pioneering Whatcom County farming family, Maryann Burk met and married Raymond Carver in Yakima in 1957 when she was 16 and he 19. For more than 20 years, they shifted about the West Coast, scraping by on her part-time earnings, producing two children, moving constantly to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors. By the mid-1970s, the marriage was foundering on alcoholism and domestic abuse, even as Carver's supreme artistry of the short story had begun to take hold and Maryann had gained a degree of self-sufficiency as a teacher. Divorce followed in 1982.

Maryann Burk Carver returned to Whatcom County, where she continues to reside. She has written a lucid, heartfelt memoir of a life, part marvelous, part tortured, with a literary legend. There is much in it too about the Burk family, including her beloved "Aunt May," Mary Katherine Burk (1898-1979), a Western alumna, longtime rural schoolteacher, farmer, and local newspaper correspondent whose papers can be found in the Mary K. Burk Collection housed in Special Collections.

Mary K. Burk Collection

-Marian Alexander,
Head of Special Collections Emeritus