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Cormac McCarthy: The Premiere Exhibition

Detail of exhibition case showing the relationships between McCarthy’s novels No Country for Old Men and The Road, and the films adapted from them.
Detail of exhibition case showing the relationships between McCarthy’s novels
No Country for Old Men and The Road, and the films adapted from them.

AUGUST 23  – DECEMBER 12, 2010
CORMAC McCARTHY: Selections from the Permanent Archive

Acclaimed as one of America’s greatest writers, Cormac McCarthy is the subject of a landmark exhibition at The Wittliff Collections on view through December 12, 2010. This year, The Wittliff is hosting the Cormac McCarthy Society’s annual conference, which draws scholars from all over the world, and their keynote talk on Oct. 28 by painter, filmmaker, and author Peter Josyph is open to the public.

The Wittliff Collections acquired McCarthy’s literary papers in December of 2007 and made the archive available to researchers in May 2009. Now, The Wittliff is mounting the first comprehensive display of the Cormac McCarthy materials, prepared by Curator Steve Davis.

For much of his career McCarthy was one of America’s best-kept literary secrets. He received a MacArthur "genius" grant and was highly praised by connoisseurs, yet his early novels sold poorly and quickly went out of print. His 1985 novel, Blood Meridian—unheralded at the time—is now considered by many literary scholars to be one of the most important books of the 20th century. Blood Meridian, celebrating its 25th year in print, is the subject of the McCarthy Society’s conference at the Wittliff Collections. A revised and expanded edition of Notes on Blood Meridian by McCarthy scholar John Sepich was published in the Wittliff’s Southwestern Writers Collection series in 2008.

McCarthy began writing full-time in 1960, and in 1992 he at last achieved widespread acclaim for his writing with All the Pretty Horses, which became a New York Times bestseller and won the National Book Award. His 2005 novel, No Country for Old Men, was made into an Academy Award-winning film, and his 2007 novel, The Road, also adapted for the big screen, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Cormac McCarthy: Selections from the Permanent Collection tracks the author’s entire writing career. On display is everything from the college journal where McCarthy published his first story to manuscript pages for his signature works. “In viewing McCarthy’s papers, you can see the meticulous, uncompromising attention he gives to his manuscripts,” said Davis. “This exhibition showcases how his art came into being.”

In many cases, McCarthy spent decades working on his stories before the books were published. One example featured in the exhibition is McCarthy’s screenplay, “No Country for Old Men,” which he completed in the 1980s but was unable to sell at the time. He eventually reworked the screenplay into a novel, and 20 years later, No Country For Old Men was published. The film version, made by the Coen brothers, won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2007.

“One interesting thing about McCarthy’s early screenplay is that the ending is very different from the novel,” said Davis. “In the screenplay, Llewelyn Moss survives and he joins Sheriff Bell in a climactic gun battle against the Chigurh character.”

In addition to highlights from the archive, the exhibition includes numerous foreign editions of McCarthy’s work, which show the author’s world-wide impact. Also on view are many of the critical works published about McCarthy over the years, as well as articles on McCarthy from Texas Monthly and Rolling Stone. Oprah Winfrey's 2008 television interview with McCarthy is running on continuous loop in the exhibition room.

Several related collections, including scholar Howard Woolmer’s extended correspondence with the author, complement the Cormac McCarthy Papers at the Wittliff. All are processed and available for research, and inventories are online.


Cormac McCarthy: Selections from the Permanent Collection coincides with the 25th anniversary of the publication of his novel, Blood Meridian. This October, the Cormac McCarthy Society will hold its annual conference at the Wittliff Collections, and both the exhibition reception and keynote speech for the conference, a talk by Peter Josyph on October 28, are open to the public. A painter, filmmaker, and writer, Josyph co-directed Acting McCarthy: The Making of Billy Bob Thornton's “All the Pretty Horses.” His newest book is Adventures in Reading Cormac McCarthy. Drawing on multiple resources, Josyph examines McCarthy’s work from original and sometimes provocative perspectives. More about Josyph’s work is at The exhibition reception begins at 6 p.m. and the program at 7 p.m. Admission is free (contributions are always welcome). A special thank-you for this event goes to Contributing Sponsors, Susan Crews Bailey and Elizabeth & Chuck Nash.