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Poetry and pie: Raymond Carver Festival in Clatskanie will feature poet Kim Stafford as keynote speaker

Admission is free to the May 17 and 18 event, which honors one of America’s most influential short-story writers in his hometown.

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Raymond Carver, whose short stories often reflected his working class roots in the Pacific Northwest, described himself as “inclined toward brevity and intensity.” Photo by: Marion Ettlinger, courtesy of The Oregon Encyclopedia

Raymond Carver, Oregon native and one of America’s most influential short story writers, is honored this weekend in his hometown of Clatskanie with poetry readings, workshops, and pie.

The Raymond Carver Writing Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday, May 17, with readings by regional writers, followed by a keynote address by Kim Stafford, former Oregon poet laureate.

Admission to the festival is free. The volunteer-fun festival is funded by grants and operates on a shoestring budget, Brian Bagdonas said. Bagdonas and his wife and business partner, Rebecca Gilbert, are organizing this year’s festival. “We want it to be accessible to as many people as possible,” he said.

“The modest size of this annual festival means attendees have many chances to participate, whether you consider yourself a writer, reader, or an enthusiast for small-town events,” the festival’s flier entices.

The theme of this year’s festival is “Where I’m Calling From” — the title of one of Carver’s short stories — and many of the readings, workshops, and other events will consider ideas of place and home. Other workshops will focus on topics including overcoming writer’s block, memoir, and poetry.

The annual Raymond Carver Writing Festival has taken place in Clatskanie since the early 2000s (with the exception of a pandemic hiatus) and honors the American short-story writer and poet.

Carver is often credited with rejuvenating the popularity and critical interest in the short story. He was posthumously nominated for the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his short story collection Where I’m Calling From. In their citation, the jury wrote, “the revival in recent years of the short story is attributable in great measure to Carver’s mastery of the form.”

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Carver was born in Clatskanie and spent part of his childhood there (his family moved to Yakima, where Carver graduated from high school). The influence of the rural former logging town in Columbia County is clear in Carver’s writing: Many of the characters in his stories are working class. His writing is sometimes called “dirty realism,” for portraying seamier, underbelly situations, or completely mundane and ordinary moments. Carver died in 1988 at age 50 and is buried in Port Angeles, Wash.

In addition to Stafford, the festival will feature author and ecologist Robert Michael Pyle. A “parking lot poetry” event in the parking lot of Clatskanie’s Safeway (also known as the Evergreen Shopping Center) will encourage participants to read poetry — their own or another’s — in the parking lot. The event is inspired by a 1984 reading that Carver and Tess Gallagher, a poet who would become his wife in the last year of his life, gave at that site.

The winners of an annual poetry contest, also in honor of Carver, will be announced Saturday night. There are three age-based categories for youth and one for adults. Clatskanie Mayor Robert “Bob” Brajcich will announce he winners of the youth categories and presented their awards.   

The festival closes Saturday night with a “poetry and pie” community potluck, featuring Carver’s favorite dessert. 

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Amanda Waldroupe is a freelance journalist and writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Guardian, Bklyner, The Brooklyn Rail, InvestigateWest, The Oregonian, the Portland Tribune, Oregon Humanities, and many others. She has been a fellow and writer-in-residence at the Logan Nonfiction Program, the Banff Centre’s Literary Journalism program, Alderworks Alaska, and the Sou’wester Artist Residency Program.
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