Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy (born Charles McCarthy;[1] July 20, 1933) is an American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. He has written ten novels, spanning the Southern Gothic, Western, and post-apocalyptic genres.

Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy in 1973 (Child of God dust jacket)
BornCharles McCarthy
(1933-07-20) July 20, 1933
Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
OccupationNovelist, playwright, screenwriter
GenreSouthern gothic, western, post-apocalyptic
Notable worksSuttree (1979)
Blood Meridian (1985)
All the Pretty Horses (1992)
No Country for Old Men (2005)
The Road (2006)
Lee Holleman
(m. 1961; div. 1962)

Anne DeLisle
(m. 1966; div. 1981)

Jennifer Winkley
(m. 1997; div. 2006)
ChildrenCullen McCarthy, son, b. 1962 (with Lee Holleman)
John McCarthy, son, b. 1998 (with Jennifer Winkley)


McCarthy's fifth novel, Blood Meridian (1985), was on Time magazine's 2005 list of the 100 best English-language books published since 1923.[2]

For All the Pretty Horses (1992), he won both the National Book Award[3] 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.[4] All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and Child of God have also been adapted as motion pictures,[5] while Outer Dark was turned into a 15-minute short.

McCarthy won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize[6] and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction for The Road (2006).[7] 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,[8] and called Blood Meridian "the greatest single book since Faulkner's As I Lay Dying".[9]

Writing career

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.[10] 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.[11]

In 1969, the couple moved to Louisville, Tennessee, and purchased a barn, which McCarthy renovated, doing the stonework himself.[11] 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,[12] 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).[13]

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".[14]

McCarthy finally received widespread recognition after the publication of All the Pretty Horses (1992), when it won the National Book Award[3][15] 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[16] (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;[6] 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.[17] 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.[18] Kekulé claimed to have discovered the ring-like shape of a benzene molecule after dreaming of an "ouroboros".

Current projects

The Guardian reported in 2009 that McCarthy was at work on three new novels.[19] 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".[20]


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).[21] 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.[22]

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,[23] and four other related collections.[23]

Spanish dialogue in McCarthy's Western novels

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."[24][25]

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.[26][27][28][29]

Writing style

McCarthy makes sparse use of punctuation, even replacing most commas with "and" (a polysyndeton).[30] 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.[31] He does not use quotation marks for dialogue and believes there is no reason to "blot the page up with weird little marks".[32] Erik Hage notes that McCarthy's dialogue also often lacks attribution, but that "Somehow...the reader remains oriented as to who is speaking".[33] 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.[34] 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.[35] He has also done copy-editing work for physicists Lawrence M. Krauss and Lisa Randall.[36]


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.[12]

Oprah Winfrey selected McCarthy's 2006 novel The Road as the April 2007 selection for her Book Club.[37] 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."[38]

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.[39] Its replacement is another Olivetti, bought for McCarthy by his friend John Miller for $11.[40]

Personal life

McCarthy was born in Providence, Rhode Island, one of six children of Charles Joseph McCarthy and Gladys Christina (née McGrail) McCarthy.[41] In 1937, his family relocated to Knoxville, where his father worked as a lawyer for the Tennessee Valley Authority.[42]

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).[43] Among his childhood friends was Jim Long (1930–2012), who would later be depicted as J-Bone in his novel Suttree.[44]

McCarthy attended St. Mary's Parochial School and Knoxville Catholic High School,[45] and was an altar boy at Knoxville's Church of the Immaculate Conception.[44] 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,[46] changing it to Cormac after famous Irish high kings Cormac mac Airt and Cormac mac Cuilennáin.[47]

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.[48]

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.[25] In a 1992 interview from The New York Times, Richard B. Woodward wrote that "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.'"[49]

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.


  • Cullen McCarthy (born 1962), son (with Lee Holleman)[50]
  • John Francis McCarthy (born 1998), son (with Jennifer Winkley)[51]
  • Lee Holleman (1961–1962)
  • Anne DeLisle (1966–1981)[11][52]
  • 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)[53]

Short fiction

  • "Wake for Susan" (1959)[54]
  • "A Drowning Incident" (1960)[55]
  • "The Dark Waters" (1965)[56]


  • "The Kekulé Problem" (2017)[57]





Dramatic adaptations

Feature films:
Short films:
  • In 2009, Outer Dark was made into a 15-minute short film (directed by Stephen Imwalle)[70] released on the U.S. festival circuit.


  1. Don Williams. "Cormac McCarthy Crosses the Great Divide". New Millennium Writings. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  2. Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo (October 16, 2005). "All Time 100 Novels – The Complete List". Time. Retrieved June 3, 2008.
  3. "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.)
  4. "'No Country for Old Men' Wins Four Oscars". NPR. February 25, 2008. Retrieved July 15, 2017.
  5. Hoffman, Jordan (July 31, 2014). "Child of God review – James Franco misfires with this punishing thriller". The Guardian. Retrieved July 15, 2017.
  6. "Fiction". Past winners & finalists by category,; retrieved March 28, 2012.
  7. Mccarthy, Cormacmes. "Winner of James Tait Black Award". James Tait Black. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  8. Bloom, Harold (September 24, 2003). "Dumbing down American readers". Boston Globe. Retrieved December 4, 2009.
  9. Bloom, Harold (June 15, 2009). "Harold Bloom on Blood Meridian". A.V. Club. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
  10. Lewis, Kimberly (2004). "The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature: McCarthy, Cormac | Books |". New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  11. Arnold, Edwin (1999). Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-105-9.
  12. Woodward, Richard (May 17, 1998). "Cormac McCarthy's Venomous Fiction". The New York Times. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  13. "What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?". The New York Times. May 21, 2006. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  14. Woodward, Richard B. (April 19, 1992). "Cormac McCarthy's Venomous Fiction". The New York Times. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
  15. Phillips, Dana (2014). "History and the Ugly Facts of Blood Meridian". In Lilley, James D. (ed.). Cormac McCarthy: New Directions. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 17–46.
  16. "The Stonemason". UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved January 31, 2017.
  17. "Cormac McCarthy Sells First Spec Script". TheWrap.
  18. "The Kekulé Problem". April 20, 2017. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  19. Flood, Alison (May 18, 2009). "Cormac McCarthy archive goes on display in Texas". London, UK: Guardian. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  20. Jurgensen, John (November 20, 2009). "Cormac McCarthy on The Road". Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  21. Cormac McCarthy Papers at The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
  22. "Texas State acquires McCarthy archives". The Hollywood Reporter. Associated Press. January 15, 2008. Retrieved July 15, 2017.
  23. "Woolmer Collection of Cormac McCarthy : The Wittliff Collections : Texas State University". September 21, 2016. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  24. Herlihy-Mera, Jeffrey. "Mojado Reverso; or, A Reverse Wetback: On John Grady Cole's Mexican Ancestry in All the Pretty Horses", Modern Fiction Studies, Fall 2015; retrieved March 25, 2016.
  25. Herlihy-Mera, Jeffrey. Mojado Reverso; or, A Reverse Wetback: On John Grady Cole's Mexican Ancestry in All the Pretty Horses", Modern Fiction Studies, Fall 2015; retrieved October 15, 2015.
  26. "A Translation of the Spanish in Blood Meridian" (PDF). Cormac McCarthy. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  27. Campbell, Lt. Jim. "A Translation of Spanish Passages in The Crossing" (PDF). Cormac McCarthy. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  28. Stevens, Brent. "A Translation of the Spanish Passages in All the Pretty Horses" (PDF). Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  29. "A Translation of the Spanish in Cities of the Plain" (PDF). Cormac McCarthy. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  30. Jones, Josh (August 13, 2013). "Cormac McCarthy's Three Punctuation Rules, and How They All Go Back to James Joyce". Open Culture. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  31. Lincoln, Kenneth (2009). Cormac McCarthy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 14. ISBN 978-0230619678.
  32. Crystal, David (2015). Making a Point: The Pernickity Story of English Punctuation. London: Profile Book. p. 92. ISBN 978-1781253502.
  33. Hage, Erik (2010). Cormac McCarthy: A Literary Companion. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. p. 156. ISBN 978-0786443109.
  34. Greenwood, Willard P. (2009). Reading Cormac McCarthy. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 4. ISBN 978-0313356643.
  35. Tetzeli, Rick (December 7, 2016). "A Short History Of The Most Important Economic Theory In Tech". Fast Company. Retrieved July 15, 2017.
  36. Flood, Alison (February 21, 2012). "Cormac McCarthy's parallel career revealed – as a scientific copy editor!". The Guardian. Retrieved July 15, 2017.
  37. "Your Reader's Guide to The Road".
  38. "A conversation between author Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers, about the new movie No Country for Old Men". October 18, 2007.
  39. Kennedy, Randy (December 4, 2009). "Cormac McCarthy's Typewriter Brings $254,500 at Auction". Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  40. Sorrel, Charlie (December 2, 2009). "Cormac McCarthy's Typewriter Dies After 50 Years and 5 Million Words". Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  41. Fred Brown, "Childhood Home Made Cormac McCarthy," Knoxville News Sentinel, January 29, 2009; retrieved July 14, 2017.
  42. Cormac McCarthy: A Biography. Cormac McCarthy Society official website; retrieved April 27, 2012.
  43. Jack Neely, "The House Where I Grew Up", Metro Pulse, February 3, 2009; accessed October 2, 2015.
  44. Jack Neely, Jim "J-Bone" Long, 1930-2012: One Visit With a Not-Quite Fictional Character, Metro Pulse, September 19, 2012; accessed October 2, 2015.
  45. Wesley Morgan, Rich Wallach (ed.), "James William Long," You Would Not Believe What Watches: Suttree and Cormac McCarthy's Knoxville (LSU Press, 1 May 2013), p. 59.
  46. Giemza, Bryan (July 8, 2013). "Irish Catholic Writers and the Invention of the American South". LSU Press. Retrieved November 29, 2017 via Google Books.
  47. "Name of the Day: Cormac - Appellation Mountain". July 30, 2009. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  48. "Obituary: Lee McCarthy". The Bakersfield Californian. March 29, 2009.
  49. "The New York Times: Book Review Search Article". The New York Times. May 17, 1998.
  50. "Lee McCarthy Obituary". The Bakersfield Californian. March 29, 2009. Retrieved January 20, 2011.
  51. Brown, Fred (December 16, 2007). "Cormac McCarthy: On the trail of a legend". Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved December 9, 2017.
  52. Frye (Ed.), S. (2013). Chronology of McCarthy’s Life and Works in The Cambridge Companion to Cormac McCarthy (Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. Xvii–Xxii. Retrieved July 23, 2019.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  53. "The Cormac McCarthy Papers". Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  54. McCormack, McCarthy (February 2, 2011) [October 1959]. "Wake for Susan". The Phoenix. pp. 3–6. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  55. McCarthy, Cormac (March 1960). "A Drowning Incident". The Phoenix. pp. 3–4.
  56. McCarthy, Cormac (Spring 1965). "The Dark Waters". The Sewanee Review. pp. 210–16. JSTOR 27541110.
  57. McCormack, McCarthy (April 17, 2017) [April 2017]. "The Kekulé Problem". Nautilus. pp. 3–6. Retrieved July 1, 2018.
  58. "Author Cormac McCarthy Sells His First Spec Script THE COUNSELOR". Collider. p. 138813. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  59. McCarthy, Cormac (June 10, 2013). "Scenes of the crime". The New Yorker. 89 (17): 66–69. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  60. "National Book Critics Circle: awards". Archived from the original on October 18, 2015. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  61. Russell Leadbetter. "Book prize names six of the best in search for winner". Herald Scotland. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  62. "Authors in running for 'best of best' James Tait Black award". BBC News. Retrieved July 14, 2017.
  63. Woodward, Richard B. (April 19, 1992). "Cormac McCarthy's Venomous Fiction – Biography". The New York Times. Retrieved January 11, 2010.
  64. Maerz, Melissa (January 9, 2011). "Midseason Television preview: 'The Sunset Limited'". Los Angeles Times.
  65. "John Hillcoat Hits The Road". Empire Online UK.
  66. "Is Guy Pearce Going on 'The Road'?". November 5, 2007. Archived from the original on March 11, 2008.
  67. Staff (January 15, 2008). "Theron Hits The Road". Sci Fi Wire. Archived from the original on January 16, 2008. Retrieved May 24, 2006.
  68. Zeitchik, Steven (October 18, 2008). "Road rerouted into 2009 release schedule". The Hollywood Reporter. Reuters.
  69. Rooney, David (August 31, 2013). "Child of God: Venice Review". The Hollywood Reporter.
  70. "Outer Dark (2009)". Retrieved January 30, 2018.
  71. Staskiewicz, Keith. "EW exclusive: James Franco talks directing William Faulkner, and how Jacob from 'Lost' helped him land 'Blood Meridian'". Retrieved September 28, 2011.
  72. Anderton, Ethan. "James Franco Maybe Adapting 'As I Lay Dying' & 'Blood Meridian'". Retrieved September 28, 2011.

Further reading

  • Frye, Steven (2009). Understanding Cormac McCarthy. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1570038396.
  • Frye, Steven, ed. (2013). The Cambridge Companion to Cormac McCarthy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1107644809.
  • Luce, Dianne C. (2001). "Cormac McCarthy: A Bibliography". The Cormac McCarthy Journal. 1 (1): 72–84. JSTOR 4290933. (updated version published 26 October 2011)
  • "Connecting Science and Art". Science Friday. April 8, 2011. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
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