Raymond Carver’s Wives

A brief article and photograph by Kevin Arnold

Ray’s marriages were provocative. One of my poet friends, Deidre Farrington Schoolcraft, can become piqued at Raymond because, even after his first wife Maryann’s continual sacrifices for him, Ray divorced her and, by marriage, bestowed the rights to Ray’s work to Tess. Deidre wrote a poem about it:

I Wake Up Angry with Raymond Carver

For Maryann Burk Carver

I wake up angry with Raymond Carver
(whom I love, who is long dead and cannot suffer my anger,
cannot even pour me gin or offer cigarettes),
for bestowing literary domain on Tess Gallagher.
Tess had nothing to do with it.
She showed up late to his curly, black hair and meticulous prose.

It was Maryann, who traded her sixteen to his nineteen,
Who bore his babies—the ones with the odd middle names
—who patched family with leavings from his
“oh, I need to be a writer” dark matter;
Maryann, who tramped with him cross-country
so he could teach/drink/get fired
from the good universities;
Maryann, whose mid-level teaching degree, earned at night,
provided the food;
Maryann, who stood Ray’s bald infidelity
(a house for Tess, no divorce for Maryann);
Maryann, who said kind, public things as he lay dying;
Sweet Maryann whose expended life built his,
who, characteristically, put up with him leaving her children
too fatherless, too early.

Tess, I think, would argue she had Raymond
for a few unhealthy years and six weeks,
that Maryann got the best of his brilliant life,
that by comparison her compensation registers little.

Still, Maryann should have gotten the writing.

September, 2011


I like Deidre’s poem very much and appreciate her concerns. There’s no doubt that, after so many years of loyal devotion to Ray, Maryann got the short end of the stick. And it certainly is a shame that Maryann couldn’t quote from Ray’s work in her autobiography, which was poignant indeed–a book I treasure.

Still, Ray taught me so much in that week-long conference I spent with him at Port Townsend that it’s difficult to generate much anger toward him. Like most of the people who knew him, I look back at him with a reverence that goes beyond his literary success. I’m sure he married Tess to memorialize the few years of happiness he had with her. And I’m  sure he loved Maryann, the mother of his children, also.

About a year after his passing, when I met Tess at a writing conference, she thanked me for the photo of Ray. She  and said it now is the only picture of Ray on her bedroom bureau. Thinking of it sitting there always brings a smile to my face. When I returned from the conference I sent a copy of the picture to Maryann as well, with hopes it might sit on her bureau too.

Ray Carver

See Kevin’s article on Carver that describes how he took this photo: Ray Carver Remembered