Cormac McCarthy: “I knew I could write. I just had to figure out how to eat while doing this.”

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of novelist Cormac McCarthy, born in Providence, Rhode Island  in 1933. He had no interest in literature until he was in the Air Force, stationed in Alaska, and had nothing to do but read. Soon after, he began to write. He said: “I never had any doubts about my abilities. I knew I could write. I just had to figure out how to eat while doing this.”

For years he lived in poverty, often unable to pay rent. When he finished his first novel, The Orchard Keeper, in 1965, he sent it to Random House because it was the only publisher he had ever heard of. Albert Erskine, who had edited Faulkner, liked the manuscript and agreed to publish it. McCarthy barely sold any books, but he won awards and grants, which gave him money to keep going. He turned down regular jobs and even speaking invitations.

He moved to Texas. He said: “I ended up in the Southwest because I knew that nobody had ever written about it. Besides Coca-Cola, the other thing that is universally known is cowboys and Indians. You can go to a mountain village in Mongolia and they’ll know about cowboys. But nobody had taken it seriously, not in 200 years. I thought, here’s a good subject.” He wrote a few more novels, but they continued to sell poorly. He mostly lived in run-down motels, which were so dimly lit that he carried around a good lightbulb so that he could see better to read and write.

Then Erskine retired, and McCarthy switched publishers. His new editor arranged to have 30 pages of McCarthy’s new manuscript published in Esquire, and suddenly everyone wanted to read it. All the Pretty Horses won the 1992 National Book Award and was a best-seller. His other novels include Blood Meridian (1985), The Crossing (1994), No Country for Old Men (2005), and The Road (2006).

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