If I could have a conversation with Raymond Carver’s widow, Tess Gallagher, I would tell her to zip it. She’s the one making noise about the editing of her late husband’s first two books of short stories. She’s the one causing a stir about how Gordon Lish edited Carver’s work.
A book of his work, “Collected Stories,” is now out in their original form, meaning unedited. There’s also a new book out about Carver’s life—“Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life,” written by Carol Sklenica.
Gordon Lish’s name keeps popping up. Lish was known to have a heavy editing hand when it came to Carver’s stories. Carver once wrote to Lish that “If I have any standing or reputation or credibility in the world, I owe it to you.” Carver was grateful to his editor and all writers need them.
Some editors are better than others. For me, in writing short stories, essays, news features, columns—what have you; I’ve had a variety of different editors each with their own style.
Some editors have a light touch, maybe changing a word here and there. I always appreciate the editor who offers feedback and suggestions to make the piece better. I also appreciate the editor who lets me see the copy before it goes to print. That’s not always the case with some editors.
I’ve written a few stories where they end up in print with changes that don’t make any sense to me. One or two have had glaring errors that I’ll never be able to correct, but for the most part I’ve had pretty decent luck. Unlike Carver’s widow, I don’t slam editors.
And if Carver was alive, I don’t think he would either and he wouldn’t want any of this old business coming to the surface. Sure, he had disagreements with Lish, but I think too much is being made of this Carver vs. his editor. Richard Ford touched on this briefly in a video posted here last week calling it “Horrible, nasty Gordon Lish stuff.”
Why Carver’s widow is feeding the fire by releasing some of Carver’s stories in their original form is beyond me. I hope she’s not doing this to try and make money off her late husband’s work.
Writers need editors. That should be a given. With Gallagher releasing Carver stories unedited, she’s more or less proving that point.
(Raymond Carver photo from thestranger.com)