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


Dan Moore, Public Domain.

Portrait of Cormac McCarthy from the dust jacket of his fourth novel, Suttree, 1979.

By Lisa Chasanov, Summer Editor

Charles “Cormac” Joseph McCarthy Jr. — the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who penned such influential works of literature as “No Country for Old Men,” “The Passenger” and “The Road” — died on Tuesday at the age of 89.

McCarthy was born in 1933 in Rhode Island as one of six children in a middle-class Irish Catholic family. Upon his family’s relocation to Tennessee, McCarthy served as an altar boy and attended Catholic schools.

McCarthy began his college education in engineering and physics at the University of Tennessee, where he left his studies to enlist in the United States Air Force in 1953.

McCarthy reportedly spent every spare moment consuming literature and discovered a passion for the written word while stationed in Alaska.

After concluding his military service, McCarthy returned to the University Of Tennessee — this time majoring in English and writing for the university’s student literary magazine — until dropping out once more in 1959 and fleeing to Chicago. 

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In 1965, Random House published McCarthy’s first novel, “The Orchard Keeper,” which garnered a William Faulkner Foundation Award for Notable First Novel. In 1966, McCarthy received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to travel through Europe and pen “Outer Dark,” which was released in 1968.

Many of McCarthy’s texts forged a path through the rural United States, notably portraying the regional character of southern Appalachia throughout several novels including “Child of God” and “Suttree.” 

McCarthy was a recipient of a MacArthur fellowship, also known colloquially as a “Genius Grant,” which the author used to travel through the American Southwest in the early 1980s. Here, McCarthy wrote “Blood Meridian,” a novel that was named one of the best English-language books published since 1923 by Time Magazine in 2005.

According to an article written by Graeme Wood for The Atlantic honoring the late author, McCarthy was “Joycean, by way of Faulkner, in his total unwillingness to spare the reader looking up an obscure word.” 

The author’s comparisons to Faulkner did not stop at his vernacular tendencies, with many of his novels’ dismal lyrical voices, rural American settings and fixations on generational trauma harkening to his literary predecessor.

Until the publication of “All the Pretty Horses” in 1992, the author was relatively unknown to the general public. The novel won the National Book Award in 1992, paving the way for McCarthy to publish several other relatively successful works, including his foray into dramatic works, “The Stonemason.”

From 2014 until McCarthy’s passing, the author was a trustee at an interdisciplinary research center called the Santa Fe Institute. Here, McCarthy engaged with cognitive psychology and wrote several somewhat scientifically oriented works.

The author died of natural causes on Tuesday in his Santa Fe home. 

“What’s the bravest thing you ever did?” wrote McCarthy in his seminal novel “The Road.” “He spat in the road a bloody phlegm. Getting up this morning, he said.” 


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