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Cormac McCarthy | Biography


Cormac McCarthy was born on July 20, 1933, in Providence, Rhode Island, and grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. His family named him Charles; he later changed his named to Cormac, after an Irish king. He attended the University of Tennessee in the 1950s, interrupting his studies to serve four years in the Air Force. Although McCarthy did not graduate, he did establish himself as a writer at the university, publishing two stories in the university's literary arts magazine, The Phoenix ("A Drowning Incident" and "Wake for Susan") and receiving the Ingram Merrill Award for creative writing in 1959 and 1960. His first novel, The Orchard Keeper, was published by Random House in 1965.

During the 1960s, McCarthy traveled throughout southern Europe and lived in Ibiza, Spain, while he wrote Outer Dark (1968), his second novel. In 1969 McCarthy moved back to the United States, first to Louisville, Tennessee, and then to El Paso, Texas, where he spent many years. Claiming he writes only about places he has visited, McCarthy said, "I've always been interested in the Southwest. There isn't a place in the world you can go where they don't know about cowboys and Indians and the myth of the West."

McCarthy's novels The Orchard Keeper, Outer Dark, Child of God (1974), and Suttree (1979), were all critical successes. All four are set in the South, feature social outcasts as characters, and display a powerful, ornate style that recalls the King James Bible, Shakespeare, and the American writers Herman Melville and William Faulkner. In 1985 McCarthy published the book some critics hailed as his masterpiece, Blood Meridian. The novel is set in Texas in the 1840s and loosely follows the exploits of the Glanton Gang, a historical gang of Texan marauders for hire, while they hunt Native Americans in the borderlands of Texas and Mexico, under the leadership of an apparently immortal villain, Judge Holden. McCarthy's novels were respected by the literary establishment (writers Saul Bellow and Ralph Ellison, as well as literary critic Harold Bloom, were all fans), but his books were not yet best-sellers.

In the early 1990s McCarthy gained a wider readership with three novels known as the Border Trilogy: All the Pretty Horses (1992), The Crossing (1994), and Cities of the Plain (1998), also set in Texas's past. Although the Border Trilogy was as violent as McCarthy's earlier novels, its style is slightly plainer than the long, Faulkner-like sentences and forbiddingly obscure vocabulary of Blood Meridian. The Border Trilogy's more accessible style may account for its popularity. The novels that followed were even more spare and stripped-down in style and were also best-sellers: the Western No Country for Old Men (2005; adapted as a film in 2007), and the post-apocalyptic The Road (2006; adapted as a film in 2009).

McCarthy's reputation as a reclusive novelist stems from his itinerant and anti-materialistic lifestyle and his apparent indifference toward giving televised interviews. He frequently inhabits motels and keeps his few possessions in storage. His second ex-wife, Annie DeLisle, says of McCarthy, "Someone would call up and offer him $2,000 to come speak at a university about his books. And he would tell them that everything he had to say was there on the page. So we would eat beans for another week." The New York Times biographer Richard B. Woodward claims that McCarthy lives as he writes, in "the lore, people and language of a pre-modern age" that "is passing from memory."

McCarthy has also written plays and screenplays, including a screenplay for the film The Counselor (2013). McCarthy's works have been recognized with the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award for Fiction, and the National Book Critics Circle Award; McCarthy has also been awarded a traveling fellowship from the American Academy, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship.

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