I love these pen pal stories! It almost makes me wish we all still had landlines and were listed in the phone book. Right???
William Gay and Cormac McCarthy:
In the early ’70s, he’d plucked an early McCarthy novel, Child of God, from a drugstore paperback rack, because the guy who’d written it lived in Tennessee, too. William loved the book so much he decided to look up the author in the Knoxville phone book and was stunned when Cormac McCarthy actually answered. It was awkward at first, and McCarthy wouldn’t talk about his own work but perked up when William mentioned Flannery O’Connor. And then they were off. They spoke intermittently on the phone over the next year, developing enough of a friendship that McCarthy sent William a manuscript copy of Suttree before it was published. It arrived in the mail, coffee-stained, and William read it, then his brother read it, then William read it again, and sent it back. This is before one could Xerox, and that copy had been one of the only two. “Or maybe the only one,” William said. He also told me that the manuscript contained a scene that was later edited from the novel; a bar fight redescribed. McCarthy’s marginal note was, “Why re-fight the fight?” William never went to college. Out of high school, he volunteered for the Navy, figuring the view of Vietnam would be better from the deck of a ship. He never went to college, books were his teachers, books and Cormac McCarthy.
After a while, as their phone conversations continued, McCarthy said he gathered William was a writer. When William confessed he was, McCarthy offered to read his stories. He’d mark the manuscripts and send them back.
More from the Oxford American here.
Photo above from Lit Reactor.