Inspired by his college days and life after
Photography: Courtesy of Ron Carlson
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Ron Carlson may be the most famous writer you’ve never heard of. His first novel, Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, inspired by his college days and life after, was published to some acclaim in 1977. In subsequent years, he has had short stories appear regularly in top magazines in the U.S., including The New Yorker, Harper’s, and Esquire. His stories have been anthologized in many “best short story” collections and in five of his own. In addition, he’s published two more novels. His work draws high praise from other authors, including Michael Cunningham, Pam Houston, even Stephen King.
Carlson is a master of witty one-liners on writing, so you’ll often find him quoted among such luminaries as Shakespeare and Mark Twain for comments like this one: “I always write about my own experiences, whether I’ve had them or not.”
In addition to writing and teaching, Carlson reviews for a number of quality publications. So even if you don’t know the name, or the amiable face that appears on his book jackets, chances are good you’ve read something he’s written.
Two things are likely to put his name on the tip of your tongue this year. For one, he’s appearing in the upcoming film “Keith,” made from his short story of the same name. The film, about an oddball high school kid who woos a beautiful classmate, stars the currently hot young singer/actor Jesse McCartney. Carlson plays a teacher in the movie.
Another reason you’ll hear about Ron Carlson hereabouts is that he will be conducting a writers’ workshop this summer for the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. The class will be a five-day intensive program on the craft of writing and will include a critique of participants’ manuscripts.
At one time in his career, Carlson was a visiting fiction writer in a program sponsored by the University of Utah, the Utah Arts Council, the Idaho Commission for the Arts, and the Alaska Arts Council. He traveled to schools throughout those states, including the Sun Valley area. He looks forward to a return visit.
He even mentions Sun Valley in a story, “At the Jim Bridger,” which originally appeared in Esquire and was later collected in two books including O. Henry Prize Stories 2001. In the story, two men lost separately in a horrendous snowstorm find each other and struggle together to survive the night. Despite his frostbitten toes, one of the men regards the snow dump and remarks, “People in Sun Valley pay a thousand dollars a day for #$%! like this.”
It is his humor, mixed with otherwise tragic circumstances, that distinguishes Carlson’s writing style.
Carlson grew up in Salt Lake City, and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Utah. While he writes steadily, he has also taught for 30 years at such diverse places as Hotchkiss, a prep school in Connecticut, and Arizona State University in Tempe where, as Foundation Professor and Regents’ Professor of English, he teaches creative writing at graduate and undergraduate levels.
His stories cover a wide range of topics: a father seeking the remains of his lost son in Alaska, a couple of American students involved with a sinister new friend in England, a kid who is the only regular person in a family of geniuses.
Sun Valley Magazine interviewed Carlson by email about his upcoming summer workshop at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. >>>