A Remarkable and Candid Correspondence Archive between Cormac McCarthy and Fellow Author, John Fergus RyanCormac McCarthy. Correspondence Archive between McCarthy and Fellow Tennessee Author, John Fergus Ryan. This amazing archive contains fairly regular correspondence between 1976 and late-1985 or early-1986. The contents include: eleven original Autograph Letters Signed from McCarthy to Ryan (totaling twenty-two pages in McCarthy's hand), six original Typed Letters Signed from McCarthy to Ryan, and twenty-six carbon copies or photocopies of Ryan's correspondence to McCarthy. Each leaf of the letters is stored in an archival sleeve, and the entire contents is housed in chronological order in an archival storage box.
The first Autograph Letter Signed by McCarthy, his introductory reply to Ryan's first letter, is signed "Cormac McCarthy." The remainder of the letters are simply signed, "Cormac." McCarthy's letters, as far as can be gleaned from textual references, emanate from Knoxville, Lexington, New Orleans, El Paso, Santa Fe, and Chihuahua, Mexico. Most are executed on simple writing or typing paper, with two letters from McCarthy on slightly smaller paper (one later letter, the one from Chihuahua, is written on hotel stationery).
Ryan begins the correspondence by congratulating McCarthy on his recent Guggenheim Fellowship, which McCarthy had won back in 1969 (in a later letter, Ryan also congratulates McCarthy on a MacArthur Fellowship, which the latter won in 1981). Overall, the two exchange what is mostly a very cordial, friendly, and informal correspondence, with occasional ribald exchanges of jokes and innuendo (including a smattering of racially-charged humor).
In general, the two men write to each other of their attempts at publication and the state of publishing (Ryan much more than McCarthy), their day-jobs, their wives, a shared love of classical music, movies (McCarthy makes a couple of references to film adaptations of his books The Gardener's Son and Outer Dark, and the two discuss or mention Sam Peckinpah, John Huston, and Orson Welles, among others), books and authors (among the authors they talk about are, to varying degrees, Henry Miller, John Rechy, John Gardener, Robert Bloch, Nikki Giovanni, William S. Burroughs, and James Agee), various vacations and other travels.
The two men correspond frequently about McCarthy's friend (and later their mutual friend), John Sheddan. McCarthy, regarding Sheddan: "Last saw him in the company of a 17 year old hooker and junkie who was having some misunderstanding with the local constabulary over a $20 bill which seemed to be bleeding ink." Later, reporting the latest misfortunes in the outlaw life of Sheddan, McCarthy writes, "Lord Sheddan has suffered a considerable fall from Grace, being a municipal guest...[for] binloads of warrants from a number of counties. Forging prescriptions, selling drugs, using stolen credit cards, etc etc. He had on his person when apprehended a credit card belonging to the county court clerk in Knoxville, a lady who had lost the same to a strongarmed bandit in broad daylight a few weeks previous."
At one point, Ryan is applying for his own Guggenheim Fellowship, and asks to list McCarthy as a reference. McCarthy heartily agrees, saying, "By all means put me down as a reference with the Fellowship people. I don't know as I carry any particular weight in that quarter, but feel free to use my name as you see fit." McCarthy then asks in a separate letter how Ryan came to get Henry Miller as an additional Guggenheim reference, saying that "I love that old man; he's largely responsible for me becoming a writer."
Later, in a short Typed Letter Signed from early 1978, McCarthy writes that his "long novel is going to the printers, they assure me, in a couple of weeks, but it wont make the fall list, which means it will appear in January '78 [actually 1979, and likely a typo by McCarthy]." Here, McCarthy is referring to Suttree, his 1979 semi-autobiographical novel described by the Times Literary Supplement as "Faulknerian in its gentle wryness, and [with] a freakish imaginative flair reminiscent of Flannery O'Connor."
In a letter from circa 1979, McCarthy bemoans the current state of publishing: "I think the country is running out of outlets for writers. If the magazines stop publishing fiction, as they just about have, can the book publishers be far behind?...There is no reason to assume that literature - and almost any definition will do here - will continue to exist. So-called serious fiction is rapidly going the way of modern poetry. All you have to do is read the gobbledygook that is published in the quarterlies. As the markets dry up only the lunatic fringe will continue in the business."
Later, in a letter from 1980, McCarthy says that he "hope[s] to finish the 'western' by the end of the year...There is an excerpt in the latest Tri-Quarterly..." Here, McCarthy is referring to his seminal novel, Blood Meridian. A portion of the novel, titled "The Scalphunters," appeared in TriQuarterly 48 in 1980, the first appearance of any part of Blood Meridian in any published form. "The Scalphunters" would end up as chapter 14 of the finished novel upon its eventual publication in 1985, with significant textual variations from its appearance in this periodical.
McCarthy's last letter is yet another cordial response to Ryan, in which McCarthy congratulates Ryan on a novel and play, hoping that Ryan "would become rich and famous." Then, McCarthy's last words, and the last words of the correspondence, ring eloquently, in true writer's style: "All is well here. Work progresses slowly - as always."
This amazing archive will serve as a wealth of information for any potential student, especially biographer, of McCarthy and his work. We have not cataloged, even remotely, the full extent of the biographical tidbits and potential gold mine of information to be found herein, since we feel the lion's share of the surprises and the wealth of the information should be reserved for the winning bidder to disseminate. Suffice to say, there is much more to learn from McCarthy in this correspondence.
This is likely to be the largest, longest-running, and most comprehensive archive of McCarthy's letters ever to come to auction, certainly to one correspondent. It is especially interesting since Ryan kept copies of his own letters, so that we can know what McCarthy was responding to on his side of the correspondence.
John Fergus Ryan was a humorist, playwright, and author from Tennessee. His most notable work is The Redneck Bride, a humorous novel published by August House in 1982. This archive was a prescient move by Ryan - to keep copies of his own letters, and the originals from McCarthy. He must have suspected he was corresponding with a famous writer whose legacy he may want to document, but even he would likely be surprised at the hallowed place McCarthy now holds in American letters.
From the collection of I.D. "Nash" Flores III.
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