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    Biography


Don Carpenter was born in Berkeley, California, in 1931. His early years were 
spent in Berkeley and in Lafayette, Ca. Summers were usually spent with his 
parents and older brother Gene at their cabin in the Sierra mountains. In 1947 
he moved to Portland, Oregon, where he finished high school (his high school 
nickname was "Carp"). Carpenter served in the Air Force during the Korean War, 
and for a time was stationed in Kyoto, Japan, where he became enamored of 
Japanese culture. During the war he worked for the military magazine Stars and 
Stripes, alongside a struggling young cartoonist named Shel Silverstein, who 
would later find fame as a beloved author of children's books. Years later, Mr. 
Silverstein would also contribute several original songs to Carpenter's movie 
Payday. 

Returning to Portland, Carpenter attended the University of Portland, and 
received his B.S. from Portland State College. He married Martha Marie Ryherd in 
1956, and in the early sixties, they lived in San Francisco, where he received 
his M.A. from San Francisco State College. He taught English for awhile, but his 
early success allowed him to become a full-time writer, and he was hailed as a 
serious literary figure from the moment his first novel, "Hard Rain Falling," 
was published in 1966. Around this time the Carpenter family (which now included 
two girls, Bonnie and Leha) settled in Mill Valley, Ca. at 386 East Blithedale. 

Carpenter was always closely involved in the Bay Area literary scene, and could 
often be found in the bars and coffee shops of North Beach with fellow writers 
like Evan S. Connell Jr., Curt Gentry and Richard Brautigan. Curt Gentry later 
commented, "Don was really a great writer. He was truly beloved and the only 
thing any of us ever resented was that he would include us as characters in his 
books." 

Carpenter also spent twelve years in and out of Hollywood writing for movies and 
television, and once commented that he would "probably spend the next twelve 
writing about it. Hollywood to me is a civilization easily as complex, 
fascinating and mysterious as ancient Egypt." However, like his novels, which 
were revered chiefly by other serious writers, his movie work had limited 
appeal. Typically, his 1973 movie Payday was once included on a list of "the 
best movies you've never seen." Carpenter wryly explained to one reporter the 
movie's lack of success: "When it came out a lot of people didn't like it a lot 
because a lot of people go to the movies to be entertained, and they didn't find 
it sufficiently entertaining." Payday, which chronicled the ups and downs of a 
country singer played by Rip Torn, was critically acclaimed and received a 
standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. If his movie work did not make him 
a Hollywood success, it did give him a great deal of material, which he 
disgorged in a series of "Hollywood novels" including "The True Life Story of 
Jody McKeegan" (1975), "Turnaround" (1981) and especially, "A Couple of 
Comedians" (1979), which Carpenter reportedly considered his best work. 

Carpenter's work continued to win more critical acclaim than popular favor, 
however. In the mid-70s he separated from his wife, and continued to work 
sporadically for the movies. One of the most troubling chapters in his life 
occurred in 1984, when his best friend, the poet and novelist Richard Brautigan, 
committed suicide. "It would be my suspicion that Richard's suicide weighed on 
Don," said the novelist Evan Connell.



At the time of his death, Carpenter was at work on a new book called "Fridays at 
Enrico's." Anne Lamott, Carpenter's friend and neighbor, who dedicated her 1994 
book "Bird by Bird" to Carpenter, predicted that his new manuscript would be 
hailed as a masterpiece. "It's a big sprawling work," she said, noting that it 
focused on the San Francisco literary community, where to the end, Carpenter 
remained a popular, sought-after figure. "Other writers were always calling to 
pick his brains," commented Lamott. Carpenter's last published novel was in 
1988, six years before he took his life.  "Fridays at Enrico's" was finally 
published in 2014 by Counterpoint Press. 

Carpenter's daughter Bonnie Howard, who is Literary Executor and 
Estate Administrator for her father, has mentioned a considerable amount of 
other unpublished works in Carpenter's archives: "He wrote a book of children's 
stories (hard to imagine, I know, but when we girls were little he used to write 
stories for us all the time. So did my mom. We were very lucky little kids!). He 
wrote three novels before Hard Rain Falling, and he told everyone that he had 
burned them or thrown them away. But he didn't - we found them in an attic in 
Mill Valley after he died. There's other screenplays and all sorts of stuff." Don
Carpenter's archives are now part of the permanent collection in the Bancroft Library 
at UC Berkeley. 

In his final years, Carpenter, who had a deep mistrust of doctors, and a horror 
of being dependent on anyone, had been suffering from a mounting series of 
medical maladies. In the early 80s he contracted a particularly severe strain of 
tuberculosis, which, being infectious, limited his contact with his family and 
friends. He continued to write, and maintained a hermit-like existence, making 
occasional trips down to the Book Depot Cafe in Mill Valley. He also suffered 
from diabetes, which eventually led to the loss of his eyesight. In his last 
years, he was confined to his apartment with pneumonia, and was unable to read 
or write for more than twenty minutes before his vision gave out. Contrary to 
what has been previously printed in several obituaries, few of his family or 
friends knew he owned a gun, and it came as a tremendous shock to most of them 
when he finally used it on a Thursday in 1995, ending his life in the tiny, 
cluttered apartment in Mill Valley, California, where he had lived and worked 
for the last 15 years. The Marin County coroner's report listed the cause of 
death as a single, self-inflicted gunshot. Don Carpenter was 64.


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