July 20

This Day in History

Literary

Jul 20, 1933:

Acclaimed author Cormac McCarthy is born

On this day in 1933, best-selling novelist Cormac McCarthy, whose books include “All the Pretty Horses,” “No Country for Old Men” and “The Road,” which won the Pulitzer Prize, is born in Providence, Rhode Island. McCarthy’s novels, often set in the American Southwest, are known for being bleak and violent and often feature characters who are outsiders or criminals.

McCarthy, whose father was a lawyer, was raised in Tennessee and attended the University of Tennessee in the early 1950s. He dropped out of school in 1953 to serve for four years in the U.S. Air Force then returned to the university before leaving again without graduating. McCarthy’s first novel, “The Orchard Keeper,” was published in 1965 and edited (along with several of his later novels) by Albert Erskine, the longtime editor for William Faulkner, to whom McCarthy has been compared.

During the 1960s and 1970s, McCarthy lived an impoverished existence as his next novels--“Outer Dark,” “Child of God” and “Suttree”--were each published to modest sales. In 1985, he released “Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West,” about a violent gang of mercenaries hunting Indians on the Texas-Mexico border in the mid-19th century. Time magazine later named “Blood Meridian” to its list of 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005.

McCarthy’s commercial breakthrough came with 1992’s “All the Pretty Horses,” about the adventures of a young Texas cowboy and his friend who travel to Mexico in the mid-20th century. A best-seller, “All the Pretty Horses” won the National Book Award and was turned into a 2000 movie directed by Billy Bob Thornton and starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz. The novel was the first book in McCarthy’s Border trilogy, which includes “The Crossing” (1994) and “Cities of the Plain” (1998).

“No Country for Old Men,” about a serial killer and a drug deal that goes wrong, debuted in 2005. The book was made into a 2007 feature film directed by Ethan and Joel Coen and starring Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones. It won four Academy Awards, including best picture.

In 2006, “The Road,” about a father and son who journey across a post-apocalyptic wasteland, was published. The novel won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. In 2007, the famously reclusive McCarthy gave his first-ever television interview to Oprah Winfrey after she selected “The Road” for her on-air book club. In 2009, a big-screen adaptation of “The Road,” featuring Viggo Mortensen, was released. That same year, McCarthy auctioned off the manual typewriter on which he’d written all his novels. The machine, which he bought at a Tennessee pawn shop in 1963 for $50, sold for $254,500. The author donated the proceeds to the Santa Fe Institute, a scientific think tank. A friend gave McCarthy a replacement typewriter of the same model, reportedly purchased for less than $20.

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