Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy has tried to keep his personal life a guarded secret, but to a great extent, he has not succeeded.

McCarthy was born on July 20, 1933, in Rhode Island. There were six children in his family; was the third. At birth, he was named Charles, but he changed it to Cormac after an Irish king.

In 1937, McCarthy's family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee. While in Knoxville, his father worked as an attorney for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). In 1967, the McCarthy family moved to Washington, D.C., where his father became lead attorney in a prestigious law firm. He remained there until he retired.

Cormac was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, attended Catholic High School in Knoxville and majored in liberal arts at the University of Tennessee. He served four years in the United States Air Force, beginning in 1953. While stationed in Alaska, he was host of a radio show.

He returned to university in 1957 and wrote his first two short stories, "Wake for Susan" and "A Drowning Incident," which were published in The Phoenix, the student literary magazine. In 1959 and 1960, he won the Ingram-Merrill Award for creative writing.

The Orchard Keeper, McCarthy's first novel, was printed in 1965 by Random House. He approached Random House because, as he put it, "It was the only publisher I had heard of." His manuscript was placed on the desk of Albert Erskine, editor of all of William Faulkner's books. Erskine edited McCarthy's books for the following 20 years.

Using a traveling fellowship awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he set sail for a vacation in Ireland aboard the Sylvania. On board, McCarthy met singer Anne DeLisle. They were married in 1966, the same year McCarthy was awarded a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. He used the money to travel in the South of Europe. He spent time in Ibiza writing Outer Dark, his next novel. After the trip, he returned to America, where Outer Dark was published and received favorable reviews.

McCarthy moved to Louisville, Tennessee, in 1969 and wrote Child of God, his next novel, which was based on true events. The novel, which takes place in southern Appalachia, was printed in 1973. In 1976, he and Anne separated, and McCarthy moved to El Paso, Texas. Suttree, the novel he had been working on sporadically for two decades, was published in 1979.

In 1985, his next book, Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West, was published. In time, the book gained much respect in literary circles. In 2006, The New York Times Magazine conducted a poll where authors and publishers were asked to name the best American novels of the preceding 25 years. McCarthy's Blood Meridian finished in third place. In 1992, McCarthy finally won wide literary recognition when All the Pretty Horses was published. The book received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award.

By 1990, with five acclaimed novels to his name, with each novel carving out a significant place in the national literary scene, his novels were not read by the vast majority of readers. McCarthy's novels were read by only a small group of admirers. McCarthy was not any closer to national recognition than 15 years earlier. In fact, he was so unknown, that when the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., received a grant to support the theater's development of McCarthy's play The Stonemason for production, the principals thought that McCarthy was a young up-and-coming black playwright. McCarthy's anonymity changed after he published Blood Meridian. Only after the publication of Vereen M. Bell's The Achievement of Cormac McCarthy, did he finally reach fame. Thirty years after writing his first novel, McCarthy was discovered by the general reading public.

Following is a list of Cormac McCarthy's literary accomplishments:


The Orchard Keeper (1965)

Outer Dark (1968)

Child of God (1974)

Suttree (1979)

Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West (1985)

All the Pretty Horses (1992)

The Crossing (1994)

Cities of the Plain (1998)

No Country for Old Men (2005)

The Road (2006)


The Gardner's Son (written, 1976; published, 1996)


The Stonemason (1994)

The Subset Limited (2006)

Cormac McCarthy: Selected full-text books and articles

Understanding Cormac McCarthy By Steven Frye University of South Carolina Press, 2009
Reading Cormac McCarthy By Willard P. Greenwood Libraries Unlimited, 2009
Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy By Edwin T. Arnold; Dianne C. Luce University Press of Mississippi, 1999 (Revised edition)
The Pastoral Vision of Cormac McCarthy By Georg Guillemin Texas A&M University Press, 2004
McCarthy, Mac Airt and Mythology: Suttree and the Irish High King By Potts, James The Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 58, Winter 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Redemption as Language in Cormac McCarthy's Suttree By Rothfork, John Christianity and Literature, Vol. 53, No. 3, Spring 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
A Question of Class: The Redneck Stereotype in Southern Fiction By Duane Carr Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: Chap. 16 "Cormac McCarthy: The Dispossessed as Naked Ape"
The Modern American Novel of Violence By Patrick W. Shaw Whitston, 2000
Librarian's tip: "Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian" begins on p. 132
Blood & Grace: The Fiction of Cormac McCarthy By Arnold, Edwin T Commonweal, Vol. 121, No. 19, November 4, 1994
Listening to the Page: Adventures in Reading and Writing By Alan Cheuse Columbia University Press, 2001
Librarian's tip: Chap. 17 "A Note on Landscape in All the Pretty Horses"
American Encounters: Greater Mexico, the United States, and the Erotics of Culture By José E. Limón Beacon Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Cormac McCarthy begins on p. 193
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