Cormac McCarthy

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Cormac McCarthy, like many of the characters in his novels, has kept moving from place to place, responding keenly to the pulse of his new settings. McCarthy was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and at the age of four moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, with his parents, Charles Joseph and Gladys McGrail McCarthy. After graduating from a Catholic high school in Knoxville, McCarthy attended the University of Tennessee in 1951-1952. The next year he spent wandering around the United States, doing odd jobs. He finally returned to the university in 1957 after four years’ service in the Air Force. In 1960, the English department recognized his talent by granting him an Ingram-Merrill Award for creative writing. This may have encouraged him to leave school and devote his attention completely to his writing, which he did the same year, without receiving a degree. Since then McCarthy has eschewed academic patronage, though he has been the beneficiary of a number of generous institutional grants.

McCarthy’s first novel, The Orchard Keeper (1965), like his subsequent fiction up to Blood Meridian: Or, The Evening Redness in the West (1985), draws upon his intimate knowledge of eastern Tennessee, the area where he spent his childhood and early adulthood. The novel, written in Sevier County, Tennessee; Asheville, North Carolina; and Chicago, won the William Faulkner Foundation Award for best first novel by an American writer. By the time the novel was published, McCarthy had been granted a fellowship by the American Academy of Arts and Letters for travel abroad. His European travels, supported further by a Rockefeller Foundation grant (1966-1968), took him to London, Paris, and the Spanish island of Ibiza, while he worked on his second novel, Outer Dark (1968).

McCarthy returned to the United States in 1967, now married and with a completed novel. He and his wife, Anne de Lisle, a singer from Hamble, England, whom he had met on his travels, settled on a small farm in Rockford, Tennessee. Yet another grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship for writing fiction, came his way in 1969.

During his career, McCarthy has, on the average, produced a novel every five or six years. Child of God came out in 1973, followed by Suttree in 1979, a novel on which he had worked throughout the late 1960’s and the 1970’s. Between the publication of those two novels, McCarthy, collaborating with film director Richard Pearce, wrote the script for The Gardener’s Son, included in the Public Broadcasting Service’s series Visions. The drama, based on an actual 1876 murder in Graniteville, South Carolina, embodies themes to which McCarthy has typically been drawn. Rob McEvoy, a crippled son of a laboring family, kills the son of a mill-owning family. The event, as portrayed by McCarthy, is fraught with moral ambiguity. Of McEvoy, the murderer, McCarthy has said, “The kid was a natural rebel, probably just a troublemaker in real life. But in our film he has a certain nobility. He stands up and says, ’No, this is intolerable and I want to do something about it.’”

McCarthy’s move to West Texas in the early 1980’s marked a significant shift for the writer. Supported by grants from the Lyndhurst Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, he worked on his fifth novel, Blood Meridian, deemed by many critics his most masterful novel to date. The narrative movement in Blood Meridian and in his subsequent works called The Border Trilogy—consisting of All the Pretty Horses (1992), The Crossing (1994), and Cities of the Plain (1998)—occurs against a precisely drawn backdrop of the border regions of Texas,...

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New Mexico, and Mexico. These four novels offer a stunning, vivid sense of the Southwest and northern Mexico, just as his first four novels capture and inscribe areas of Appalachia.

McCarthy’s five-act play The Stonemason was published in 1994, though it had been written some years before. The play, set in Kentucky, features a young black man, Ben Telfairs, who, like the protagonists of The Border Trilogy, determines to adhere to traditional values and follow the family trade as a stonemason. In the late 1990’s, McCarthy married for the third time. He now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The value and significance of McCarthy’s fiction was quickly acknowledged by early reviewers and writers such as Robert Penn Warren, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, and Guy Davenport, but only since the 1990’s, with his move from Random House to Knopf and the publication of All the Pretty Horses, has his work gained a wider public audience and recognition. Though not going to the lengths of his contemporary Thomas Pynchon, McCarthy has chosen to live a secluded life, preserving his privacy and avoiding publicity, having granted permission for just one interview (published in The New York Times Magazine) during his career.


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Cormac McCarthy was born on July 20, 1933, in Rhode Island. His first name is a Gaelic word meaning “son of Charles.” Fittingly, the author’s father was indeed named Charles.

McCarthy attended the University of Tennessee, where he majored in liberal arts and where he won the Ingram-Merrill award two years in a row for creative writing. Later, he moved to Chicago, where he worked as an auto mechanic while he wrote his first novel, The Orchard Keeper (1965). Around this same time, he married Lee Holleman (a poet), but the couple divorced. They had a son. Later, McCarthy remarried, this time to Anne DeLisle. This marriage also eventually ended in divorce.

In 1979, McCarthy wrote what many critics called his best novel up to that point: Suttree. This work has been compared in scope to James Joyce’s Ulysses, except that it is more humorous. While living off the funds provided by the MacArthur Award (nicknamed the “genius grant”), McCarthy turned to a new genre, the Western, with his 1985 book Blood Meridian, a story that takes place along the Texas/Mexican border.

After changing publishers, McCarthy hit the big time with his book All the Pretty Horses (1992), which sold almost 200,000 hardcover copies in the first six months. Since then, McCarthy has become a very familiar name to readers, though he remains an extremely private man, rarely giving interviews.

McCarthy, now in his seventies, recently fathered another son, whom McCarthy called the inspiration for the boy in The Road. McCarthy also told Oprah Winfrey, in possibly only his second interview, that he was standing in El Paso, Texas, looking out at the hills that surround the city, when he imagined the raging fires that represent the devastation in this novel.

Despite his advancing years, McCarthy continues to write. In 2007, he signed a deal with his publisher to write at least two more novels.


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Cormac McCarthy, who turned seventy-five on July 20, 2008, appears to have refused his senior citizenship. In 2007, McCarthy’s novel The Road won the Pulitzer Prize for best novel. Then in 2008, McCarthy’s best-selling novel No Country for Old Men was adapted to film and won the 2008 Academy Award for best movie. McCarthy also recently signed a two-book deal with his publisher, which means his fans have at least two more novels to look forward to.

McCarthy was born in Rhode Island in 1933, to a family of six children. His father, Charles, was a lawyer, who later moved his family to Tennessee. McCarthy attended the University of Tennessee for two years before interrupting his education to join the U.S. Air Force. While in the service, McCarthy spent two years in Alaska, where he worked as a host for a radio program. Later he returned to the university, and though he won an award for his creative writing, he did not graduate. Instead he married Lee Hollerman (a poet) in 1961. The couple had a son named Cullen. The family moved to Chicago, where McCarthy took a job as a mechanic, but he focused his energy on writing. After McCarthy and his wife moved back to Tennessee, they were divorced, and McCarthy’s first novel was published. The Orchard Keeper came out in 1965.

That same year, McCarthy set out to explore Ireland. It was during this time that he met Anne DeLisle, who would become his second wife. The couple traveled throughout Europe, during which time McCarthy worked on his second novel, Outer Dark, published in 1968.

McCarthy has written eight more novels. Those gaining the most critical attention include All the Pretty Horses (1992), No Country for Old Men (2005), and The Road (2006). He has also written three plays.

McCarthy is married and has one son. The family currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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