Cormac McCarthy

American writer

Cormac McCarthy is regarded as one of America’s greatest living novelists. His numerous novels have a broad and varied readership, and several have been made into major motion pictures. He has also written and published essays, nonfiction works, and plays.


Life Facts

  • Cormac McCarthy was born in July of 1933 in Providence, Rhode Island.
  • He was stationed in Alaska while working as a member of the U.S. Air Force.
  • His first novel, The Orchard Keeper, was published in 1965.
  • He came into the public spotlight when All the Pretty Horses won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
  • Today, McCarthy is a trustee for the Santa Fe Institute.

Interesting Facts

  • In 1976, McCarthy completed a screenplay for an episode of Visions.
  • He has written all his literary work on a mechanical typewriter since 1958.
  • He lived in great poverty during the beginning of his career.
  • McCarthy received a Rockefeller Foundation Grant.
  • No Country for Old Men was first conceived as a screenplay.


Famous Books by Cormac McCarthy

The Road – a harrowing novel about a post-apocalyptic world. It follows a father and his son as they attempt to survive in a starvation-ravaged wilderness. The novel is incredibly dark and was made into an award-winning film in 2009.

No Country For Old Mena novel that takes place around an illegal drug deal gone wrong in the Texas desert. It was originally written as a screenplay. It follows three characters, Llewelyn Moss, Anton Chigurh, and Ed Tom Bell.

Blood Meridian – a violent and epic novel published in 1985. It is often classified as a western but also features dramatic anti-western themes. It follows a teenager and his experiences with scalp hunters who massacred Native Americans.

All the Pretty Horseswinner of the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It is the first in his “Border Trilogy” novels. It follows 16-year-old John Grady Cole, who spent much of his life on a ranch. It discusses the consequences for following one’s dreams and living according to a romanticized idea of life.

Child of God  – published in 1973, Child of God describes the life of a serial killer in the 1960s. He uses varied styles of writing throughout the novel and a poetic-feeling type of prose.


Early Life

Cormac McCarthy was born Charles Joseph McCarthy Jr. in July of 1933 in Providence, Rhode Island. He spent much of his youth in Tennessee. His family moved there in 1937, with his father working for the Tennessee Valley Authority. He attended a Catholic high school and spent time as an altar boy at Knoxville’s Church of the Immaculate Conception. He expressed a disinterested opinion of formal education as a child, preferring to spend his time engaged in extracurricular pursuits.

He started his secondary education in 1951 at the University of Tennessee. He dropped out two years later to join the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed in Alaska early in his career and spent a great deal of time reading. He came back to Tennessee and the university in 1957. He published his first two stories around this time.


Early Career

His first two published stories were “A Drowning Incident” and “Wake for Susan.” These appeared in a student literacy magazine, The Phoenix. He wrote under the name C. J. McCarthy, Jr. He dropped out of the university again in 1959 and moved to Chicago.

It was around this period of time that he started using “Cormac” as his first name while writing. He moved to the Smokey Mountains somewhere outside of Knoxville with his wife, Lee Holleman, in 1961. There, the two had a son, and Cormac focused on his writing. Lee, unhappy with the situation, moved to Wyoming and filed for divorce.

His first novel was published in 1965, The Orchard Keeper. It was noted for its similarity to William Faulkner’s writing. It also won the William Faulkner Foundation Award for a notable first novel.

Over the next years, he took advantage of a traveling fellowship to spend time in Ireland. There, he met Anne DeLisle. They were married in 1966, the same year he received a Rockefeller Foundation Grant. His second novel was published in 1968, Outer Dark. He returned to the U.S. around this period as well. The couple lived a cheap life in Louisville, Tennessee. He wrote his next book, Child of God, during the period while refusing speaking engagements that could’ve brought in much-needed money for the family.


Literary Career

In 1976, McCarthy completed a screenplay for an episode of Visions titled The Gardener’s Son. The episode was nominated for two Emmys. McCarthy was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship worth $236,000 in 1981. He traveled to the South-West where he wrote Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West. It was a violent novel that has grown in its legacy since it was published. Today, it often features near the top on lists of great American novels.

His career finally took its next step when he published All the Pretty Horses and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was a New York Times bestseller. It was followed by two more books in the trilogy.

One of his best-known novels, No Country for Old Men, was conceived first as a screenplay. It won four Academy Awards. It was in the early 2000s that McCarthy wrote the novel that many contemporary readers associate with his name, The Road. When speaking about the novel and in the company of his son, he said that he imagined the city of El Paso in a hundred years with “fires up on the hill and everything being laid to waste.” The Road was his tenth novel. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006. It was adapted into a well-loved film in 2009.

Also, around this period, McCarthy wrote a play, The Sunset Limited. It was noted as “unorthodox” and was later adapted into a screenplay. He wrote the novel, The Passenger in 2015 which is McCarthy’s first full-length novel to use a female protagonist. Today, McCarthy is a trustee for the Santa Fe Institute. He published The Kekulé Problem, a nonfiction essay inspired by his time there. 


Influence from other Writers

Cormac McCarthy was notably influenced by writers such as George Orwell and William Faulkner.


Literature by Cormac McCarthy

Explore literature by Cormac McCarthy below, created by the team at Book Analysis.