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I remember reading The Road years ago when I was in college. It was a novel, unlike anything I had ever read before. Those were the days when I read a lot of thrillers and had begun dabbling in historical fiction. So Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel came as a surprise – a rude awakening and an awe-inducing story that was to influence a change in not just my reading habits but also, my world-view.
Cormac McCarthy was born on 20 July 1933. He was born as Charles McCarthy, Jr. but he changed his name later in life to avoid getting confused with the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s dummy which was called Charlie McCarthy. Cormac was the nickname his Irish aunts used for him and so he chose to switch to this new name. He began attending the University of Tennessee in 1951 but dropped out two years later to join the Air Force. He read books voraciously while he was stationed in Alaska – the first time he really began reading.
McCarthy’s books are genre-defying. They get clubbed under Southern Gothic or Western or post-apocalyptic, but I believe they transcend all definitions. We meet characters who are so human that they feel unreal. McCarthy is known to depict scenes of extreme violence, not something for the queasy-hearted. Yet, in his works, I have found more reasons to feel the raw elements of human nature than most other realistic works. Suttree, a semi-autobiographical novel, was written by McCarthy over 20 years. It was based on his experiences while living in Knoxville on the Tennessee River – there is no way for you to know which parts are real and which ones imagined. But what it shows you is a character, living on the margins of society. In real life, McCarthy tended to be quite similar. He could have shot to fame earlier in his life – his works have been published since 1965 – and yet he chose to live as a recluse, devoted to his passion, but living with the bare minimum when he could have had luxuries.
6 Interesting Tidbits About Cormac McCarthy
When Cormac McCarthy travelled through the country, he always carried in his bag a 100-watt bulb. No matter where he was sleeping he wanted to make sure he could always read at night!
McCarthy uses an Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter to type out his works. The first one he bought in 1963 for $50 was auctioned by Christie’s in 2009 and sold for $254,500!
Fame did not come to McCarthy until 1991 – none of his works had sold more than 5,000 hardcover copies till then, he did not have an agent to represent him during most of his writing career and he was even called “the best unknown novelist in America”.
Many of McCarthy’s works have been adapted into films, the most famous being No Country for Old Men, which was turned into a movie in 2007 and won 4 Academy Awards and 75+ film awards globally.
Cormac McCarthy’s writing style is very unique – he rarely uses punctuation marks, not even quotation marks for dialogues and creates something called polysyndetons – a scheme where conjunctions like “and” “but” “or” are used to combine many phrases or even sentences and slow down the rhythm of the prose.
Cormac McCarthy currently works with the Santa Fe Institute.
Awards & Honours
- Best of the James Tait Black (shortlist), 2012
- PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, for a career whose writing “possesses qualities of excellence, ambition, and scale of achievement over a sustained career which place him or her in the highest rank of American literature.”, 2008
- International Dublin Literary Award (longlist), 2008
- Premio Ignotus, 2008
- Maltese Falcon Award, Japan, 2008
- International Dublin Literary Award (shortlist), 2007
- Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2007
- James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, 2006
- Believer Book Award, 2006
- International Dublin Literary Award (longlist), 2000
- International Dublin Literary Award (longlist), 1996
- National Book Award for Fiction, 1992
- National Book Critics Circle Award, 1992
- MacArthur Fellowship, 1981
- Guggenheim Fellowship for creative writing, 1969
- William Faulkner Foundation Award for notable first novel, 1966
- Traveling Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1965
- Ingram-Merrill awards, 1959, 1960
Have you read any works by Cormac McCarthy? How did you enjoy them? Tell us, we would love to know!