Cormac McCarthy Biography

Playwright, Author (1933–)
Cormac McCarthy is an American writer known for stylistically complex novels, such as The Road and Blood Meridian.


Cormac McCarthy was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1933 and published his first novel (The Orchard Keeper) in 1965. What followed was a string of stylistically complex and dark novels, such as Outer Dark and Suttree, that established McCarthy as both a bright literary light and a master of the Southern Gothic novel. With 1985's Blood Meridian, McCarthy became a modern master, and his Border Trilogy enthralled both critics and a growing readership. With such later novels as No Country for Old Men and The Road, McCarthy found even wider success, and film versions of the books put his name on the lips of moviegoers around the world.

Early Years

Cormac McCarthy was born Charles McCarthy Jr. on July 20, 1933, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was the eldest son of six children (he later changed his name to Cormac, after an Irish king). In 1937, his family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. After graduating from high school, he went to the University of Tennessee but left in 1953 to join the U.S. Air Force, where he served for four years.

McCarthy returned to UT in 1957 and began what would become an illustrious writing career when he published two stories, "A Drowning Incident" and "Wake for Susan," in the student literary magazine. Also notable of his time at UT, McCarthy won the Ingram-Merrill Award for creative writing in both 1959 and 1960.

The early 1960s found McCarthy in Chicago, working on his first novel and marrying a student he had met while at UT, Lee Holleman. The couple had one son, Cullen, before their marriage came to an end. (McCarthy would marry twice more, to Anne DeLisle in 1966, and to Jennifer Winkler in l998.)

The Early Novels

His first book, The Orchard Keeper, was published in 1965 to mixed reviews but garnered McCarthy the William Faulkner Award. McCarthy soon won a traveling fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and set sail for Europe. He met Anne DeLisle on board the ship, and he and DeLisle traveled the continent for the next couple of years. They returned to Tennessee in 1967, and Outer Dark was published the following year. What followed these two dark and complex novels were two more that lived in the Southern Gothic realm and helped build McCarthy's reputation as a literary heavyweight: Child of God (1974) and Suttree (1979), which some contend is his greatest work. The novels were about people on the outskirts of society, looking into themselves, working through seemingly endless dark nights of the soul.

Later Novels

In 1985, Blood Meridian, a hyper-violent and apocalyptic frontier tale set in the 1840s, was published to critical acclaim (although little excitement from the general reading public) and has since been hailed as his masterpiece. Telling the story of a 14-year-old boy, the Kid, who joins a gang of Indian hunters along the U.S.–Mexico border, the work allowed McCarthy to explore the nature of good and evil in a way that would redefine his writing and truly tip the scales on his growing status.

In 1992, McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses was published. This book would be his first real breakthrough to a wide readership, selling nearly 200,000 copies in the first hardcover printing. It also won the National Book Award and paved the way for two more novels in the "Border Trilogy": The Crossing (1994) and Cities of the Plain (1998).

After the turn of the 21st century, McCarthy began entering the mainstream consciousness even more with such works as No Country for Old Men (2005), which was turned into an Oscar-winning film two years later, and The Road (2006), an end-of-the-world father/son tale that won the Pulitzer Prize that year and also went on to the big screen. In 2013, two more of his works moved toward movie theaters, with James Franco's adaptation of Child of God and Ridley's Scott's The Counselor, for which McCarthy wrote his first original screenplay.

Besides the Pulitzer, McCarthy has won a Rockefeller Foundation grant, a Guggenheim fellowship and a MacArthur Foundation Grant.

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