2011 file image of Cormac McCarthy. Alamy Stock Photo
Cormac McCarthy

US literary icon Cormac McCarthy has died aged 89

McCarthy won major literary awards and gained international acclaim for a dozen sparsely written, soul-wrenching novels.

LAST UPDATE | Jun 13th 2023, 9:28 PM

CELEBRATED AUTHOR CORMAC McCarthy, an unflinching chronicler of America’s bleak frontiers and grim underbelly, has died aged 89, his publisher said.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who wrote “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men” – both of which became feature films – passed away at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Over his nearly six-decade long career, McCarthy won major literary awards and gained international acclaim for a dozen sparsely written, soul-wrenching novels.

Considered a demanding but honest writer, his clinical descriptions of inner torment and the backwoods of America won him a fiercely loyal following.

Born on 20 July, 1933 in Providence, Rhode Island, McCarthy’s family moved to Tennessee when he was four years old.

His father worked as a lawyer there.

His given name was Charles, but he changed it to Cormac (after an Irish king) as he opted not to finish university and instead embark on a full-time career in writing.

McCarthy wrote his first novel, “The Orchard Keeper,” while working at a car parts shop in Chicago in the 1960s — it was published by Random House.

His editor at the time, Albert Erskine, had also worked for William Faulkner, a writer who McCarthy admired and with whom he is sometimes compared.

The raw and violent book is an ode to the savage natural environment of the mountains of Tennessee, the southern US state where McCarthy grew up.

McCarthy’s focus on the dark contours of humanity remained the through line of his work, gaining him an ardent fan base and critical success.

Following “The Orchard Keeper,” McCarthy received multiple writing fellowships, including one from the Rockefeller Foundation.

In 1968, he published “Outer Dark,” the story of the fallout from an incestuous relationship.

His next book, “Child of God,” published in 1973, is about a man who heads into the Appalachian mountains to live apart from society.

It contains descriptions of murder and necrophilia.

By contrast, McCarthy’s “Suttree,” published six years later, is often described as his most humorous novel.

He worked on the book, which depicts an outcast community living on the Tennessee River, on and off for some 20 years.

‘The Road’

In 1981, McCarthy received one of the MacArthur Foundation’s so-called genius grants, and he spent the next part of his life living in El Paso, Texas on the border with Mexico – a time that had a profound impact on his work.

His next book, “Blood Meridian,” was published in 1985 and marked a turning point in his career.

Set in Texas and Mexico during the 1840s, it was a post-apocalyptic Western.

The 1990s brought the publication of The Border Trilogy – “All the Pretty Horses,” “The Crossing,” and “Cities of the Plain” – all set in the American West.

Despite Erskine’s lament that “we never sold any of his books,” “All the Pretty Horses” became a surprise hit, garnering a spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

Hollywood took notice, and the film version was released in 2000, starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz.

In 2008, an adaptation of his novel “No Country for Old Men” by directors Joel and Ethan Coen won four Oscars, including one for Spanish actor Javier Bardem.

A year earlier, McCarthy was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for “The Road” – the story of a father and son making their way across a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Oprah Winfrey earlier named the novel one of her book club selections, giving McCarthy a massive publicity boost, and it was made into a film starring Viggo Mortensen.

Sixteen years after “The Road,” McCarthy’s final works were a pair of companion novels – “The Passenger” and its prequel “Stella Maris” – both published in 2022 and tackling complex issues of grief and the nature of knowledge.

Reclusive and known for living a life with few material pleasures – for years, he lived in motels – McCarthy was married three times and had two sons.

© AFP 2023 

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