Cormac McCarthy (born Charles McCarthy; July 20, 1933) is an American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. He has written ten novels, spanning the Southern Gothic, Western, and post-apocalyptic genres.
July 20, 1933
Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
|Occupation||Novelist, playwright, screenwriter|
|Genre||Southern gothic, western, post-apocalyptic|
Blood Meridian (1985)
All the Pretty Horses (1992)
No Country for Old Men (2005)
The Road (2006)
(m. 1961; div. 1962)
(m. 1967; div. 1981)
(m. 1997; div. 2006)
Cullen McCarthy, son, b. 1962 (with Lee Holleman)
For All the Pretty Horses (1992), he won both the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. His 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was adapted as a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and Child of God have also been adapted as motion pictures, while Outer Dark was turned into a 15-minute short.
McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction for The Road (2006). In 2010, The Times ranked The Road first on its list of the 100 best fiction and non-fiction books of the past 10 years. Literary critic Harold Bloom named McCarthy as one of the four major American novelists of his time, alongside Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth, and called Blood Meridian "the greatest single book since Faulkner's As I Lay Dying".
Random House published McCarthy's first novel, The Orchard Keeper, in 1965. McCarthy decided to send the manuscript to Random House because "it was the only publisher [he] had heard of". At Random House, the manuscript found its way to Albert Erskine, who had been William Faulkner's editor until Faulkner's death in 1962. Erskine continued to edit McCarthy's work for the next 20 years.
In the summer of 1965, using a Traveling Fellowship award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, McCarthy shipped out aboard the liner Sylvania hoping to visit Ireland. While on the ship, he met Anne DeLisle, who was working on the Sylvania as a singer. In 1966, they were married in England. Also in 1966, McCarthy received a Rockefeller Foundation Grant, which he used to travel around Southern Europe before landing in Ibiza, where he wrote his second novel, Outer Dark (1968). Afterward he returned to America with his wife, and Outer Dark was published to generally favorable reviews.
In 1969, the couple moved to Louisville, Tennessee, and purchased a barn, which McCarthy renovated, doing the stonework himself. Here he wrote his next book, Child of God (1973), based on actual events. Like Outer Dark before it, Child of God was set in southern Appalachia. In 1976, McCarthy separated from Anne DeLisle and moved to El Paso, Texas. In 1979, his novel Suttree, which he had been writing on and off for 20 years, was finally published.
Supporting himself with the money from his 1981 MacArthur Fellowship, McCarthy wrote his next novel, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West (1985). The book has grown appreciably in stature in literary circles; in a 2006 poll of authors and publishers conducted by The New York Times Magazine to list the greatest American novels of the previous quarter-century, Blood Meridian placed third, behind only Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987) and Don DeLillo's Underworld (1997).
In 1992, an article in The New York Times noted that none of McCarthy's novels published to that point had sold more than 5,000 hardcover copies, and that "for most of his career, he did not even have an agent".
McCarthy finally received widespread recognition after the publication of All the Pretty Horses (1992), when it won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was followed by The Crossing (1994) and Cities of the Plain (1998), completing the Border Trilogy. In the midst of this trilogy came, c. 1994, The Stonemason (first performed in 1995), McCarthy's second dramatic work. He had previously written a film for PBS, The Gardener's Son, which aired January 6, 1977.
McCarthy's next book, No Country for Old Men (2005), was originally conceived as a screenplay before being turned into a novel. It stayed with the western setting and themes yet moved to a more contemporary period. The Coen brothers adapted it into a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards and more than 75 film awards globally. McCarthy's next book, The Road (2006), won international acclaim and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; a 2009 film adaptation was directed by John Hillcoat, written by Joe Penhall, and starred Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Also in 2006, McCarthy published the play The Sunset Limited; he adapted it as a screenplay for an HBO film (airdate February 2011). It was directed and executive produced by Tommy Lee Jones, who also starred opposite Samuel L. Jackson.
In 2012, McCarthy sold his original screenplay The Counselor to Nick Wechsler, Paula Mae Schwartz, and Steve Schwartz, who had previously produced the film adaptation of McCarthy's novel The Road. Ridley Scott directed, and the cast included Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Cameron Diaz. Production finished in 2012, and it was released on October 25, 2013, to polarized critical reception.
In a 2017 essay titled "The Kekulé Problem", McCarthy analyzed a dream of August Kekulé's as a model of the unconscious mind and the origins of language. Kekulé claimed to have discovered the ring-like shape of a benzene molecule after dreaming of an "ouroboros".
The Guardian reported in 2009 that McCarthy was at work on three new novels. One is set in 1980s New Orleans and follows a young man as he deals with the suicide of his sister. According to McCarthy, this will feature a prominent female character. He also states that the new novel is "long".
The comprehensive archive of McCarthy's personal papers is preserved at the Wittliff collections, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas. The McCarthy papers consists of 98 boxes (46 linear feet). The acquisition of the Cormac McCarthy Papers resulted from years of ongoing conversations between McCarthy and Southwestern Writers Collection founder, Bill Wittliff, who negotiated the proceedings.
The Southwestern Writers Collection/Wittliff collections also holds The Wolmer Collection of Cormac McCarthy, which consists of letters between McCarthy and bibliographer J. Howard Woolmer, and four other related collections.
Spanish dialogue in McCarthy's Western novelsEdit
In "Mojado Reverso; or, a Reverse Wetback: On John Grady Cole's Mexican Ancestry in All the Pretty Horses," Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera observes: "John Grady Cole is a native speaker of Spanish. This is also the case of several other important characters in the Border Trilogy, including Billy Parhnam (sic), John Grady's mother (and possibly his grandfather and brothers), and perhaps Jimmy Blevins, each of whom are speakers of Spanish who were ostensibly born in the US political space into families with what are generally considered English-speaking surnames…This is also the case of Judge Holden in Blood Meridian."
The Cormac McCarthy Society has made PDF documents comprising Spanish-to-English translations of dialogue for four of McCarthy's Western novels: Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain.
McCarthy is known for his sparse use of punctuation, even replacing most commas with "and" (a polysyndeton). He told Oprah Winfrey in an interview that he prefers "simple declarative sentences" and that he uses capital letters, periods, an occasional comma, a colon for setting off a list, but never semicolons. He does not use quotation marks for dialogue and believes there is no reason to "blot the page up with weird little marks". Erik Hage notes that McCarthy's dialogue also often lacks attribution, but that "[s]omehow...the reader remains oriented as to who is speaking". His attitude to punctuation dates to some editing work he did for a professor of English while he was enrolled at the University of Tennessee, when he stripped out much of the punctuation in the book being edited, which pleased the professor. McCarthy also edited fellow Santa Fe Institute Fellow W. Brian Arthur's influential article "Increasing Returns and the New World of Business", published in the Harvard Business Review in 1996, removing commas from the text. He has also done copy-editing work for physicists Lawrence M. Krauss and Lisa Randall.
McCarthy was born in Providence, Rhode Island, one of six children of Charles Joseph McCarthy and Gladys Christina (née McGrail) McCarthy. In 1937, his family relocated to Knoxville, where his father worked as a lawyer for the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The family first lived on Noelton Drive in the upscale Sequoyah Hills subdivision, but by 1941 had settled in a house on Martin Mill Pike in South Knoxville (this latter house burned in 2009). Among his childhood friends was Jim Long (1930–2012), who would later be depicted as J-Bone in his novel Suttree.
McCarthy attended St. Mary's Parochial School and Knoxville Catholic High School, and was an altar boy at Knoxville's Church of the Immaculate Conception. He attended the University of Tennessee from 1951–52 and 1957–59 but never graduated. While at UT he published two stories in The Phoenix and was awarded the Ingram Merrill Award for creative writing in 1959 and 1960.
For purposes of his writing career, McCarthy decided to change his first name from Charles to Cormac to avoid association with famous ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's dummy Charlie McCarthy, changing it to Cormac after famous Irish high kings Cormac mac Airt and Cormac mac Cuilennáin.
After marrying fellow student Lee Holleman in 1961, they "moved to a shack with no heat and running water in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains outside of Knoxville". There they had a son, Cullen, in 1962. While caring for the baby and tending to the chores of the house, Lee was asked by Cormac to also get a day job so he could focus on his novel writing. Dismayed with the situation, she moved to Wyoming, where she filed for divorce and landed her first job teaching.
His novel Suttree is written with a deep knowledge of revelry and its proponents, making it seem semi-autobiographical. One would think that the author himself is a big drinker, but in an interview with Richard B. Woodward from The New York Times, "McCarthy doesn't drink anymore – he quit 16 years ago in El Paso, with one of his young girlfriends – and Suttree reads like a farewell to that life. 'The friends I do have are simply those who quit drinking,' he says. 'If there is an occupational hazard to writing, it's drinking.'" His former life may provide some insight to his long list of introspectively shameful characters.
Cormac McCarthy is fluent in Spanish and lived in Ibiza, Spain, in the 1960s and later settled in El Paso, Texas, where he lived for nearly 20 years. In the late 1990s, McCarthy moved to the Tesuque, New Mexico area, north of Santa Fe, with his third wife, Jennifer Winkley, and their son, John. McCarthy and Winkley divorced in 2006. He guards his privacy.
In one of his few interviews (with The New York Times), McCarthy revealed that he respects only authors who "deal with issues of life and death," citing Henry James and Marcel Proust as examples of writers who do not rate with him. "I don't understand them ... To me, that's not literature. A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange", he said.
Oprah Winfrey selected McCarthy's 2006 novel The Road as the April 2007 selection for her Book Club. As a result, McCarthy agreed to his first television interview, which aired on The Oprah Winfrey Show on June 5, 2007. The interview took place in the library of the Santa Fe Institute. McCarthy told Winfrey that he does not know any writers and much prefers the company of scientists. During the interview, he related several stories illustrating the degree of outright poverty he endured at times during his career as a writer. He also spoke about the experience of fathering a child at an advanced age, and how his son was the inspiration for The Road.
Regarding his own literary constraints when writing novels, McCarthy said he is "not a fan of some of the Latin American writers, magical realism. You know, it's hard enough to get people to believe what you're telling them without making it impossible. It has to be vaguely plausible."
As reported in Wired magazine, McCarthy's Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter, which he had owned since buying it in a Knoxville pawnshop for $50 in 1963, was put up for auction at Christie's in 2009. He estimates he has typed around five million words on the machine, and maintenance consisted of "blowing out the dust with a service station hose". The Olivetti was auctioned on December 4, 2009, and the auction house estimated it would fetch between $15,000 and $20,000; it sold for $254,500. Its replacement is another Olivetti, bought for McCarthy by his friend John Miller for $11.
- Cullen McCarthy (born 1962), son (with Lee Holleman)
- John Francis McCarthy (born 1999), son (with Jennifer Winkley)
- Lee Holleman, (1961–1962)
- Annie DeLisle, (1967–1981)
- Jennifer Winkley (1997–2006)
- The Orchard Keeper (1965) ISBN 0-679-72872-4
- Outer Dark (1968) ISBN 0-679-72873-2
- Child of God (1973) ISBN 0-679-72874-0
- Suttree (1979) ISBN 0-679-73632-8
- Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West (1985) ISBN 0-679-72875-9
- All the Pretty Horses (1992) ISBN 0-679-74439-8 – Border Trilogy, 1
- The Crossing (1994) ISBN 0-679-76084-9 – Border Trilogy, 2
- Cities of the Plain (1998) ISBN 0-679-74719-2 – Border Trilogy, 3
- No Country for Old Men (2005) ISBN 0-375-70667-4
- The Road (2006) ISBN 0-307-38789-5
- The Passenger (forthcoming)
- "The Kekulé Problem" (2017)
- 1959, 1960 Ingram-Merrill awards
- 1965 Traveling Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
- 1966 William Faulkner Foundation Award for notable first novel for The Orchard Keeper
- 1969 Guggenheim Fellowship for creative writing
- 1981 MacArthur Fellowship
- 1992 National Book Award for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award for All the Pretty Horses
- 1996 IMPAC Award longlist for The Crossing
- 2000 IMPAC Award longlist for Cities of the Plain
- 2006 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction and Believer Book Award for The Road
- 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Road
- 2007 IMPAC Award shortlist for No Country for Old Men
- 2008 Maltese Falcon Award, Japan, for No Country for Old Men
- 2008 Premio Ignotus for The Road
- 2008 IMPAC Award longlist for The Road
- 2008 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, for a career whose writing "possesses qualities of excellence, ambition, and scale of achievement over a sustained career which place him or her in the highest rank of American literature."
- 2012 Best of the James Tait Black, shortlist, The Road
- The Gardener's Son (airdate January 1977) was broadcast as part of a series for PBS. McCarthy wrote the screenplay upon request for director Richard Pearce.
- An adaptation of McCarthy's play The Sunset Limited (2006) aired on HBO in February 2011, starring Tommy Lee Jones (who also directed) and Samuel L. Jackson.
- Feature films:
- McCarthy's 1992 novel All the Pretty Horses was made into a 2000 film directed by Billy Bob Thornton, starring Matt Damon and Penélope Cruz.
- McCarthy's 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was adapted into a 2007 Academy Award-winning film directed by the Coen brothers and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem.
- A 2009 film based on the 2006 novel The Road was directed by John Hillcoat and adapted by Joe Penhall. The leading roles include Viggo Mortensen as the father, Kodi Smit-McPhee as the boy, Charlize Theron as the wife, and Robert Duvall as the old man. The film opened on November 25, 2009 to mostly positive reviews.
- A 2013 film adaptation of McCarthy's 1973 novel Child of God, directed by James Franco, premiered at the 70th Venice International Film Festival.
- Short films:
- In 2009, Outer Dark was made into a 15-minute short film (directed by Stephen Imwalle) released on the U.S. festival circuit.
- Don Williams. "Cormac McCarthy Crosses the Great Divide". New Millennium Writings. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
- Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo (October 16, 2005). "All Time 100 Novels – The Complete List". Time. Retrieved June 3, 2008.
"National Book Awards – 1992". National Book Foundation; retrieved March 28, 2012.
(With acceptance speech by McCarthy and essay by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
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- McCormack, McCarthy (April 17, 2017) [April 2017]. "The Kekulé Problem". Nautilus. pp. 3–6. Retrieved July 1, 2018.
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