Cormac McCarthy, lauded author of ‘The Road’ and ‘No Country for Old Men,’ dies at 89

by Chloe Baker
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Cormac McCarthy, the acclaimed author known for his masterpieces “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men,” passed away at the age of 89. McCarthy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, transported readers through vivid prose across diverse landscapes, from the southern Appalachians to the deserts of the Southwest, in novels like “Blood Meridian,” “All the Pretty Horses,” and “The Road.”

Publisher Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Penguin Random House, confirmed that McCarthy died of natural causes at his residence in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Nihar Malaviya, the CEO of Penguin Random House, praised McCarthy’s unwavering commitment to his craft and his ability to explore the boundless possibilities and power of the written word. Malaviya emphasized the profound impact McCarthy’s characters, mythic themes, and raw emotional truths had on millions of readers worldwide, acknowledging that his brilliant novels would endure for generations.

Hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, McCarthy drew comparisons to literary great William Faulkner for his expansive, Old Testament style and rural settings. Like Faulkner, McCarthy delved into bleak and violent themes, vividly illustrating how the weight of the past overwhelms the present. Against barren landscapes and dilapidated border communities, he placed characters such as drifters, thieves, prostitutes, and broken old men, all trapped in predetermined destinies that predated their existence. As John Grady Cole, the ill-fated protagonist of McCarthy’s celebrated “Border” trilogy, discovered, dreams of a better life were mere illusions, and love itself became an act of folly.

McCarthy’s own story was one of delayed and ongoing success and recognition. While relatively unknown to the public until he turned 60, he ultimately became one of the most esteemed and accomplished writers in the country, despite his infrequent interactions with the media. His breakthrough came in 1992 with “All the Pretty Horses,” followed by a 15-year period in which he won prestigious awards such as the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. McCarthy’s novel “No Country for Old Men” was adapted into an Oscar-winning film by the Coen brothers, revealing the synergy between his terse, absurdist dialogue and the filmmakers’ distinctive style.

However, it was “The Road,” a stark tale depicting a father and son navigating a ravaged world, that propelled McCarthy to his widest audience and garnered him the highest accolades. The novel earned him the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was selected by Oprah Winfrey for her book club. In an interview with Winfrey, McCarthy revealed that the initial spark for “The Road” came during a trip he took with his young son to El Paso, Texas, where he imagined the city’s future 50 or 100 years ahead. The book, dedicated to his son, encapsulated the profound bond between a father and son amidst desolation.

Following “The Road,” McCarthy retreated from the limelight for 15 years, leading many to speculate that his career had concluded. However, in a surprising turn of events in 2022, Knopf announced the forthcoming release of a pair of interconnected novels McCarthy had previously alluded to: “The Passenger” and “Stella Maris.” These narratives explored the obsession between a brother and sister and the legacy of their physicist father, who had worked in atomic technology. Notably, “Stella Maris” featured a female protagonist, an aspect that McCarthy acknowledged as a personal challenge.

McCarthy’s literary journey began with his debut novel, “The Orchard Keeper,” published by Random House in 1965 while he worked as an auto mechanic in Chicago. His editor, Albert Erskine, had a longstanding partnership with Faulkner. McCarthy’s subsequent works included “Outer Dark” (1968), “Child of God” (1973), and “Suttree” (1979). In 1985, he published the violent and evocative “Blood Meridian,” which portrayed a group of bounty hunters mercilessly slaughtering Native Americans for their scalps along the Texas-Mexico border.

The “Border Trilogy” series, set in the Southwestern United States along the Mexican border, comprised “All the Pretty Horses” (1992), which won the National Book Award and was adapted into a feature film, “The Crossing” (1994), and “Cities of the Plain” (1998).

McCarthy attributed his success to a series of fortuitous events throughout his life. He shared an anecdote about living in a Tennessee shack, running out of toothpaste, and coincidentally finding a toothpaste sample in the mailbox when times were particularly bleak. Such occurrences shaped his perspective, and he considered himself fortunate. In 1981, McCarthy received a MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a “genius grant.”

In 2009, Christie’s auctioned the Olivetti typewriter that McCarthy had used while crafting novels like “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men,” fetching a price of $254,500. McCarthy, who had purchased the typewriter for $50 in 1958 and used it until 2009, donated the proceeds to the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit research community focused on interdisciplinary scientific exploration. McCarthy confessed to having a preference for the company of scientists over writers, stating that he didn’t understand women—a self-awareness that resonated with readers.

In 2008, the Southwestern Writers Collection at Texas State University-San Marcos acquired McCarthy’s archives, including correspondence, notes, drafts, proofs of 11 novels, an unfinished manuscript, and materials related to a play and four screenplays.

While McCarthy’s educational journey included a brief stint at the University of Tennessee and service in the Air Force from 1953 to 1957, he ultimately left academia without completing his degree. He spent his adult years living around the Great Smoky Mountains before relocating to the West in the late 1970s and eventually settling in Santa Fe.

Sadly, McCarthy’s childhood home in Knoxville, Tennessee, fell into disrepair and was destroyed by fire in 2009.

This obituary was primarily written by retired AP reporter Sue Major Holmes in New Mexico, with additional reporting by AP National Writer Hillel Italie from New York.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Author

Who is Cormac McCarthy?

Cormac McCarthy is an acclaimed author known for his novels, including “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men.” He was a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist with a distinctive writing style.

What are some of Cormac McCarthy’s notable works?

Some of Cormac McCarthy’s notable works include “The Road,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Blood Meridian,” “All the Pretty Horses,” and the “Border Trilogy” series.

What themes are explored in Cormac McCarthy’s novels?

Cormac McCarthy’s novels often delve into bleak and violent themes. He explores the weight of the past overpowering the present, the human condition, the struggle for survival, and the consequences of fate.

What awards did Cormac McCarthy receive?

Cormac McCarthy received several awards throughout his career, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship (also known as the “genius grant”).

How did “The Road” impact Cormac McCarthy’s career?

“The Road” brought McCarthy a wide audience and critical acclaim. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was chosen for Oprah Winfrey’s book club, further cementing McCarthy’s status as a prominent and influential author.

What was Cormac McCarthy’s writing style like?

Cormac McCarthy’s writing style is characterized by dense and evocative prose, often compared to the works of William Faulkner. He paints vivid landscapes and explores deep, philosophical themes with a unique and powerful narrative voice.

Did Cormac McCarthy have any other notable contributions or interests?

Aside from his writing, McCarthy donated the proceeds from the sale of his typewriter to benefit the Santa Fe Institute, a scientific research community. He was known to have a preference for spending time with scientists rather than fellow writers.

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