As a teacher of creative writing, too, Carver had a light touch. He did not consider it his job to discourage anyone. He said that there was enough discouragement out there for anyone trying against all odds to be a writer, and he clearly spoke from experience. Criticism, like fiction, was an act of empathy for Ray, putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes. He couldn’t understand writers who wrote negative reviews and once chided me for doing so. He believed fiction and poetry were fraternal enterprises. Among the very few people that Ray vocally disliked were a poet who had refused to lend him $50 when his car broke down in Salt Lake City; two critics who had attacked his own work, and writers who had attacked any of his friends….
One day when I berated him for going easy on a student I thought was turning out poor work, he told me a story: he had recently been a judge in a prestigious fiction contest. The unanimous winner, whose work has since drawn much praise, turned out to be a former student of his, probably the worst, least promising student he’d had in 20 years. “What if I had discouraged her?” he said. His harshest critical formula was: “I think it’s good you got that story behind you.” Meaning, I guess, that one has to drive through some ugly country on the way to Parnassus….