Cormac McCarthy Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Once considered the most obscure major writer in the contemporary United States, Cormac McCarthy gained national attention through the phenomenal success of his 1992 novel All the Pretty Horses. He was at first named Charles Joseph McCarthy, Jr., but later renamed Cormac after an ancient Irish king—one who was, incidentally, renowned for his literary scholarship. McCarthy’s parents, Charles Joseph and Gladys McGrail McCarthy, were middle-class Catholics, but when McCarthy was four the family moved to the Protestant stronghold of Knoxville, Tennessee. His father was chief legal counsel to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which permanently flooded many valleys, removing traditional mountain families who had been living on the land for generations. Some local people have still not forgiven the government for the trauma of their “relocation,” which included even the gruesome contents of cemeteries. Whatever McCarthy learned about these operations probably fueled his later work, which features similar gruesome scenes and identification with the local people and land.

McCarthy experienced a rather conventional upbringing, attending parochial school and then Knoxville’s Catholic High School. A recurrent restlessness set in at the University of Tennessee, where he dropped out after a year. After another year’s hiatus, he joined the U.S. Air Force for four years, then he returned to the University of Tennessee for three more years. While at the university, he received encouragement for his writing and began work on at least one novel. He left the university again in 1959 without taking a degree. Six years later McCarthy finally published his first novel, The Orchard Keeper. Centered on traditional mountain characters who clash with the forces of modernity, represented by government and the law, the novel reveals McCarthy’s sympathy with outcasts and renegades, a theme that recurs throughout his work. The Orchard Keeper won for McCarthy immediate critical acclaim and prizes but few readers. Recalling William Faulkner’s narrative techniques, the novel earned for McCarthy the 1965 William Faulkner Foundation Award, which honors the best first novel by an American author. An American Academy of Arts and Letters Fellowship enabled McCarthy to travel in...

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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.


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.