Recent graduate who founded school’s Cormac McCarthy Club presents drawing of famed author to faculty
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy has a standing invitation to return to the high school where he graduated in 1951, which now features a portrait of the author as he appeared in his senior picture and a plaque honoring him for his literary accomplishments.
The invitation was extended by Knoxville Catholic High School President Dickie Sompayrac on Oct. 18 as he and 2011 KCHS alumnus Eric Theodore unveiled the charcoal drawing of Mr. McCarthy created by Mr. Theodore.
Speaking to about two dozen friends of Mr. McCarthy and KCHS, Mr. Theodore explained how he was introduced to Cormac McCarthy as a KCHS freshman writing a research paper on the literary icon.
“Although more than a half century had passed since his graduation, the fall of 2007 was an exciting time to study McCarthy. Earlier that year he was awarded one of literature’s highest achievements, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for his novel The Road. That summer he granted his first and only recorded interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Shortly afterward, the novel No Country for Old Men was made into a film, which won the Academy Award for best picture the following spring,” Mr. Theodore said, noting that while it appeared Mr. McCarthy was a sudden literary success, he actually had spent decades writing critically acclaimed books leading up to his recent series of commercial successes.
“Over a decade earlier, Mr. McCarthy had won the National Book Award for All The Pretty Horses, his Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian, which is considered by many to be one of the greatest masterpieces written in the English language and distinctly marked his Southwestern books. Many of his novels from the first part of his career are East Tennessean at their very core. The Orchard Keeper, Outer Dark, Child of God, and Suttree beat with a regional pulse. However, his writing can be traced back even farther to his high school days here at Knoxville Catholic, when he was known as Charlie,” Mr. Theodore added.
Mr. Theodore and a group of classmates formed a Cormac McCarthy Club while attending KCHS to continue their interest in the author.
“Our goal was simply to raise awareness in the KCHS community. We ended up raising money and bought most of McCarthy’s books for the school library. We also made a tentative and idealistic plan to recognize him in some way, which I can say is happening now,” he said.
He has continued studying Mr. McCarthy at Centre College in Kentucky and attended a Cormac McCarthy Conference at Berea College in Kentucky put on by fans of the author. He said the editor of the Cormac McCarthy Chronicle planned to use his charcoal portrait as the cover image for one of the publication’s issues.
Mr. Sompayrac voiced appreciation to Mr. Theodore for the gift he created in Cormac McCarthy’s honor. Mr. Sompayrac said it is fitting that the portrait and plaque will hang in the school library in a place of distinction.
The plaque reads:
In honor of KCHS alumnus
Charles “Cormac” McCarthy
Class of 1951
Novelist, screenwriter, playwright. One of the greatest authors in the history of American literature. May his genius and his legacy inspire us to pursue excellence whilst living humbly and deliberately.
To know what will come is the same as to make it so.
Cormac McCarthy Club 2010-2011 Artwork by Eric Theodore ‘11
Among those on hand for the portrait unveiling was Carolyn Sue (Wright) Huber, who also was in the class of 1951. Mrs. Huber, who attends All Saints Church, said she was in school with Mr. McCarthy for most of the 12 years they attended St. Mary School at Immaculate Conception Church and KCHS in the 1940s and early ’50s and described him as a “delightful person.”
Mrs. Huber was impressed by Mr. Theodore’s portrait and said it was definitely “Charlie.”
“Everybody liked Charlie. He was a nice, polite gentleman who liked to daydream, but he was always listening so he would have something to write about. He was very bright,” she said.
She last saw him several years ago at a reunion of classmates at her Knoxville home. She was looking forward to seeing him again at the KCHS portrait unveiling.
“We missed him and we were sorry he couldn’t be here, but we understand with all his commitments,” she said.
Mrs. Huber isn’t the only one who hopes Cormac McCarthy gets an opportunity to personally view the portrait.
Mr. Sompayrac, Diannah Miller, who is a KCHS graduate and also is director of development and alumni affairs for the school, and other faculty members would welcome a visit by the author.
“It would be significant for us because we know how rarely he is in public. It would be awesome,” Mr. Sompayrac said.
“It would be so powerful for our students to hear one of the most famous authors in the world,” Mrs. Miller added.
As part of his presentation, Mr. Theodore read a poem titled Autumn’s Magic written by then-Knoxville Catholic student Charlie McCarthy.
Mr. Theodore said the idea for a Cormac McCarthy Club originated with several students who had read the author’s books but didn’t realize he was a KCHS alumnus.
“It was largely unknown, so we just wanted to raise awareness about this amazing man, one of the greatest writers of our time who went to our school. At the time, the library only had one copy of No Country for Old Men, so that was high on our priority list to raise money to get the rest of his books for the library,” Mr. Theodore said.
Another 2011 KCHS graduate, Alec Cunningham, has been inspired by Mr. McCarthy’s writings. She also believes that KCHS students need to know about Mr. McCarthy’s ties to the school.
Ms. Cunningham is a budding writer, majoring in journalism and minoring in creative writing at Tusculum College.
“Catholic students need to know about Cormac McCarthy because anybody who wants to be a creative writer or anybody who has that in their blood and knows that an alumnus of the school has gone on to do such great things fires you up,” she said.
Mr. Theodore is hopeful the author he follows so closely pays a visit to their alma mater and sees the portrait he has drawn.
“I would be thrilled if he stopped by and came to see it. I hope he would think I did him justice,” Mr. Theodore said as he quoted McCarthy scholar Dianne Luce. “Thanks to Cormac McCarthy, whose love of this dark world is a fire illuminating it.”