Cormac McCarthy Talks to Oprah

Posted on June 6, 2007

Reclusive, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy has never done a television interview in his life. But he gave an open and interesting interview with Oprah Winfrey. His post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, is an Oprah Book Club selection.

Known for his rural settings, biblical prose and affinity for bygone worlds, McCarthy said that while typically he doesn't know where the ideas for his books originate, he can trace "The Road" to a trip he took with his young son to El Paso, Texas, about four years ago. There, standing at the window of a hotel in the middle of the night, his son asleep nearby, he started to imagine what El Paso might look like 50 or 100 years in the future.

"I just had this image of these fires up on the hill ... and I thought a lot about my little boy," said McCarthy, whose previous books include "Blood Meridian" and "All the Pretty Horses." He said he wrote some of his thoughts down and didn't really think about it again until he was in Ireland a few years later and the novel came to him. "There was a book, and it was about that man and that little boy," he said.


Having a child as an older man also had its effect on McCarthy. "It wrenches you up out of your nap and makes you look at things fresh," he said. "It forces the world on you, and I think it's a good thing." Winfrey was clearly fascinated with McCarthy's life, particularly the time when he was so poor that he once was tossed out of a $40-a month hotel because he couldn't pay his bill. He told a story of living in a "shack in Tennessee," having so little money that he could not afford to buy toothpaste when he ran out, only to discover a free sample of toothpaste in his mailbox. "Just when things were really, really bleak something would happen," he said.

Many authors jump or weep for joy upon receiving the word from Winfrey, publishing's swiftest and surest path to the top of best seller lists. But McCarthy's apparent indifference to having hundreds of thousands of new readers baffled and charmed the talk show host. "You are a different kind of author, let me tell you," she said, chuckling.

The latest Oprah pick is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, who also wrote The Virgin Suicides. Middlesex, a moving and darkly funny novel about a hermaphrodite's choice to become a girl, also won a Pulitzer Prize.

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