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Happy Anniversary Ray

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(alternate text)If there was ever a literary event that would make me buy tickets from a scalper, this is it…

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Raymond Carver’s landmark story collection Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC is hosting an all star tribute. Featured authors at the tribute are Richard Ford, Jayne Anne Phillips, Joy Williams, and Tobias Wolff. Besides being masterful authors in their own right, what most intrigues me about this lineup is that these people were friends with Carver. Most of these names appear in My Boat a poem that was Carver’s equivalent of Noah’s Ark. Instead of animals, he peopled his vessel with best friends and their favorite things. The insights of these authors, who were given passage on Carver’s cruise of friendship, will be a treasure to hear.

Richard Ford writes about his late friend in Good Raymond. I have a limited edition Harvill Press production of this essay that was published in Great Britain but the original appeared in The New Yorker in 1998. In the essay, Ford recalls his first encounter with Carver at a literary event in 1977. Carver was reading a short story titled What Is It? that was later renamed by an editor to Are These Actual Miles?. 

The effect of voice and story upon the listener was of actual life being unscrolled in a form so distilled, so intense, so chosen, so affecting in its urgencies as to leave you breathless and limp when he was finished. It was a startling experience–wondrous in all ways.

Ford then recounts the nature of his friendship with Carver over the intervening years. He tells some good tales and also examines how Carver’s work influenced his own writing. In the end, the influence was not so much upon literature, but on life.

Our time went fast when it was happening. And the time between has gone fast, too. Yet I remember it as long. All of it seems to have taken so long, a double-mindedness that makes me think I lived it right. And even though I’ll never have a friend like Ray again–I and all of us feel his absence every day, feel exposed to the world in a way we’d rather not be–I think that how that precious time seems to me now bodes well. It was a full, mirthful, involved, charged, dedicated time in which we couldn’t feel the walls of life, couldn’t go back, could only go forward… I wish Ray were here. I wish I weren’t writing this. And so there is this feeling of regret. But except for these two bewilderments–one huge and one infinitesimal–I would not want one small bit of any of it to be different.

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s website isn’t terribly helpful with ticket information right now. They are listed at $15 but there is an incredibly ambiguous message stating, “This performance may not yet be onsale, may be sold-out or have other issues. Please try at a later time or contact customer service.” The customer service number is 202-544-7077. The event begins at 8pm this evening.

To hear recollections like those of Richard Ford, to share the experience of a monumental literary anniversary, and to savor Raymond Carver’s short stories read aloud, is an experience that definitely warrants a call to customer service.

Happy anniversary Ray.