Cormac McCarthy

Distinguished Artist Recipient, 2015 Governor’s Arts Awards


One of the country’s most important living authors, Cormac McCarthy moved to Knoxville at the age of four, attended the University of Tennessee as a young man and spent several decades of his adult life in East Tennessee. The region inspired and served as the setting of many of his best known works, including Suttree and Child of God. Other novels such as the Orchard Keeper, Blood Meridian and The Crossing have found favor with the public and critics alike, leading to a string of literary awards and fellowships culminating with a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for his post-apocalypse novel The Road. Several of his novels have been made into successful films including The Road, All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men. In addition to being a master of the novel, McCarthy has also written plays such as The Stonemason and screenplays, most recently, The Counselor.

The Tennessee of novelist, playwright and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy is at once familiar and mysterious. This is typical of the dichotomies that define McCarthy’s work. With prose that is floridly descriptive, yet reveals nothing more than what is essential to the reader’s comprehension, he reveals a Tennessee (America) that is both romanticized and unflinching. His name often mentioned in the same company as Joyce, Faulkner and Melville; McCarthy is one of the country’s most analyzed and renowned authors. 

McCarthy’s family moved to Knoxville when he was a young child and he returned to Knoxville after four years in the military. There he attended the University of Tennessee where work published in the university’s literary magazine won the first of his many writing awards. For most of the next couple of decades he made East Tennessee his home. Living at first in a rented house and later in a barn McCarthy restored himself, using bricks salvaged from the childhood home of Tennessee poet James Agee to build a fireplace. His first novel, The Orchard Keeper, was published in 1965. A fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and letters followed. The work kept coming and so did the awards and recognition. He received a Rockefeller Foundation grant and, after the publication of Outer Dark, a Guggenheim fellowship in 1966. In 1979, he published what many critics consider to be his best work, Suttree.  A novel some twenty years in the making, Suttree’s Tennessee River setting and vivid characters leave an indelible impression in the reader’s mind and provides a stunning apogee to McCarthy’s Appalachian cycle of novels.  After publishing the haunting and brilliant novels of The Border Trilogy during the subsequent decades, McCarthy returns to Appalachia and East Tennessee in 2006’s The Road. In 2007, he added a Pulitzer Prize to his long list of awards.

McCarthy and his work have become subjects of intense fascination for students, readers and scholars. His writings are dissected, studied and analyzed in academic and literary circles. In fact, the Cormac McCarthy Society and The English department at the University of Memphis will co-host a conference this October to analyze the work and present papers about The Orchard Keeper in celebration of its 50th anniversary. It is this prolonged and sustained interest that continues to bring readers and researchers to Tennessee and to its rich cultural heritage.