Cormac McCarthy

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Cormac McCarthy
Born Charles McCarthy
(1933-07-20) July 20, 1933 (age 86)
Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
Occupation Novelist, playwright, screenwriter
Nationality American
Genre Southern Gothic, western, post-apocalyptic
Notable works Suttree (1979), Blood Meridian (1985), All the Pretty Horses (1992) (Border Trilogy), No Country for Old Men (2005), The Road (2006), The Sunset Limited (2006)
Spouse Lee Holleman (m. 1961; div. 1962)
Annie DeLisle (m. 1967; div. 1981)
Jennifer Winkley (m. 1997; div. 2006)
Children Cullen McCarthy, son, b. 1962 (with Lee Holleman)
John McCarthy, son, b. 1998 (with Jennifer Winkley)


Cormac McCarthy (born Charles McCarthy;[1] July 20, 1933) is an American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. He has written ten novels, spanning the Southern Gothic, western, and post-apocalyptic genres. He won the Pulitzer Prize[2] and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction for The Road (2006). His 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was adapted as a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. For All the Pretty Horses (1992), he won both the U.S. National Book Award[3] and National Book Critics Circle Award. All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and Child of God have also been adapted as motion pictures.

Blood Meridian (1985) was among Time magazine's list of 100 best English-language books published between 1923 and 2005[4] and placed joint runner-up in a poll taken in 2006 by The New York Times of the best American fiction published in the last 25 years.[5] Literary critic Harold Bloom named him as one of the four major American novelists of his time, alongside Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth,[6] and called Blood Meridian "the greatest single book since Faulkner's As I Lay Dying".[7] In 2010, The Times ranked The Road first on its list of the 100 best fiction and non-fiction books of the past 10 years.

Writing career

Random House published McCarthy's first novel, The Orchard Keeper, in 1965. McCarthy decided to send the manuscript to Random House because "it was the only publisher [he] had heard of". At Random House, the manuscript found its way to Albert Erskine, who had been William Faulkner's editor until Faulkner's death in 1962.[8] Erskine continued to edit McCarthy's work for the next 20 years.

In the summer of 1965, using a Traveling Fellowship award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, McCarthy shipped out aboard the liner Sylvania, hoping to visit Ireland. While on the ship, he met Anne DeLisle, who was working on the Sylvania as a singer. In 1966, they were married in England. Also in 1966, McCarthy received a Rockefeller Foundation Grant, which he used to travel around Southern Europe before landing in Ibiza, where he wrote his second novel, Outer Dark (1968). Afterward he returned to America with his wife, and Outer Dark was published to generally favorable reviews.[9]

In 1969, the couple moved to Louisville, Tennessee and purchased a barn, which McCarthy renovated, doing the stonework himself.[9] Here he wrote his next book, Child of God (1973), based on actual events. Like Outer Dark before it, Child of God was set in southern Appalachia. In 1976, McCarthy separated from Anne DeLisle and moved to El Paso, Texas. In 1979, his novel Suttree, which he had been writing on and off for 20 years,[10] was finally published.

Supporting himself with the money from his 1981 MacArthur Fellowship, McCarthy wrote his next novel, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West (1985). The book has grown appreciably in stature in literary circles; in a 2006 poll of authors and publishers conducted by The New York Times Magazine to list the greatest American novels of the previous quarter-century, Blood Meridian placed third, behind only Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987) and Don DeLillo's Underworld (1997).

In 1992, an article in the New York Times noted that none of his novels published to that point had sold more than 5,000 hardcover copies, and that "for most of his career, he did not even have an agent".[11] McCarthy finally received widespread recognition after the publication of All the Pretty Horses (1992), when it won the National Book Award[3][12] and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was followed by The Crossing (1994) and Cities of the Plain (1998), completing the Border Trilogy. In the midst of this trilogy came[clarification needed] The Stonemason (first performed in 1995), McCarthy's second dramatic work. He had previously written a film for PBS, The Gardener's Son which aired January 6, 1977.

McCarthy's next book, No Country for Old Men (2005), stayed with the western setting and themes yet moved to a more contemporary period. The Coen brothers adapted it into a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards and more than 75 film awards globally. McCarthy's next book, The Road (2006), won international acclaim and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction;[2] a 2009 film adaptation was directed by John Hillcoat, written by Joe Penhall, and starred Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Also in 2006, McCarthy published the play The Sunset Limited; he adapted it for an HBO film (airdate February 2011) directed and executive produced by Tommy Lee Jones, and starring Jones opposite Samuel L. Jackson.

In 2012, McCarthy sold his original screenplay, The Counselor, to Nick Wechsler, Paula Mae Schwartz, and Steve Schwartz, who had previously produced the film adaptation of McCarthy's novel The Road.[13] Ridley Scott directed, and the cast included Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Cameron Diaz. Production finished in 2012, and it was released on October 25, 2013, to polarized critical reception.[citation needed]

Current projects

The Guardian reported in 2009 that McCarthy was at work on three new novels.[14] One is set in 1980s New Orleans and follows a young man as he deals with the suicide of his sister. According to McCarthy, this will feature a prominent female character. He also states that the new novel is "long".[15]


The comprehensive archive of Cormac McCarthy's personal papers is preserved at the Wittliff collections, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas. The McCarthy papers consists of 98 boxes (46 linear feet).[16] The acquisition of the Cormac McCarthy Papers resulted from years of ongoing conversations between McCarthy and Southwestern Writers Collection founder, Bill Wittliff, who negotiated the proceedings.[17] The Southwestern Writers Collection / Wittliff collections also holds The Wolmer Collection of Cormac McCarthy, which consists of letters between McCarthy and bibliographer J. Howard Woolmer,[18] and four other related collections.[19]

Spanish dialogue in McCarthy's Western novels

In "Mojado Reverso; or, a Reverse Wetback: On John Grady Cole’s Mexican Ancestry in All the Pretty Horses," Jeffrey Herlihy-Mera observes: "John Grady Cole is a native speaker of Spanish. This is also the case of several other important characters in the Border Trilogy, including Billy Parhnam (sic), John Grady’s mother (and possibly his grandfather and brothers), and perhaps Jimmy Blevins, each of whom are speakers of Spanish who were ostensibly born in the US political space into families with what are generally considered English-speaking surnames…This is also the case of Judge Holden in Blood Meridian."[20]

In a post titled, "An annotated Reader-Response: English Translations of the Spanish Dialogue" in McCarthy's Western Novels, Ched observes: [21]

"One of the distinctive (and idiosyncratic) elements of McCarthy's style is his untranslated Spanish discourse. This feature is especially pronounced in his western novels (i.e., Blood Meridian and the Border Trilogy).

In some cases, the dialogue is simple and easily contextualized by readers with minimal familiarity with the language. Many times, though, the Spanish dialogue is extensive and integral to the meaning of the narrative.

Nadie sabe lo que espera en este mundo.
De veras.
The Crossing, p. 332."

Consequently, the Cormac McCarthy Society has made PDF documents comprising Spanish-to-English translations of dialogue for four of McCarthy's Western novels: Blood Meridian,[22] All the Pretty Horses,[23] The Crossing,[24] and Cities of the Plain.[25]

Writing style

McCarthy is known for his sparse use of punctuation.[26] McCarthy told Oprah Winfrey in an interview that he prefers "simple declarative sentences" and that he uses capital letters, periods, an occasional comma, a colon for setting off a list, but never semicolons.[27] He does not use quotation marks for dialogue and believes there is no reason to "blot the page up with weird little marks".[28] Erik Hage notes that McCarthy's dialogue also often lacks attribution, but that "[s]omehow...the reader remains oriented as to who is speaking".[29] McCarthy's attitude to punctuation dates to some editing work he did for a professor of English while he was enrolled at the University of Tennessee, when he stripped out much of the punctuation in the book being edited, which pleased the professor.[30]

Personal life

McCarthy was born in Providence, Rhode Island, one of six children of Charles Joseph McCarthy and Gladys Christina McGrail McCarthy.[31] In 1937, his family relocated to Knoxville, where his father worked as a lawyer for the Tennessee Valley Authority.[32] The family first lived on Noelton Drive in the upscale Sequoyah Hills subdivision, but by 1941 had settled in a house on Martin Mill Pike in South Knoxville (this latter house burned in 2009).[33] Among his childhood friends was Jim Long (1930–2012), who would later be depicted as J-Bone in his novel Suttree.[34] McCarthy attended St. Mary's Parochial School and Knoxville Catholic High School,[35] and was an altar boy at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.[34] He attended the University of Tennessee from 1951–52 and 1957–59 but never graduated. While at UT he published two stories in The Phoenix and was awarded the Ingram Merrill Award for creative writing in 1959 and 1960.

After marrying fellow student Lee Holleman in 1961, they "moved to a shack with no heat and running water in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains outside of Knoxville". There they had a son, Cullen, in 1962. While caring for the baby and tending to the chores of the house, Lee was asked by Cormac to also get a day job so he could focus on his novel writing. Dismayed with the situation, she moved to Wyoming, where she filed for divorce and landed her first job teaching.[36]

His novel Suttree is written with a deep knowledge of revelry and its proponents, making it seem semi-autobiographical. One would think that the author himself is a big drinker, but in an interview with Richard B. Woodward from The New York Times, "McCarthy doesn't drink anymore – he quit 16 years ago in El Paso, with one of his young girlfriends – and Suttree reads like a farewell to that life. 'The friends I do have are simply those who quit drinking,' he says. 'If there is an occupational hazard to writing, it's drinking.'" His former life may provide some insight to his long list of introspectively shameful characters.[37]

Cormac McCarthy is fluent in Spanish and lived in Ibiza, Spain, in the 1960s and later settled in El Paso, Texas, where he lived for nearly 20 years.[20] In the late 1990s, McCarthy moved to the Tesuque, New Mexico area, north of Santa Fe, with his third wife, Jennifer Winkley, and their son, John. McCarthy and Winkley divorced in 2006. He guards his privacy. In one of his few interviews (with The New York Times), McCarthy reveals that he is not a fan of authors who do not "deal with issues of life and death," citing Henry James and Marcel Proust as examples. "I don't understand them," he said. "To me, that's not literature. A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange."[10] McCarthy remains active in the academic community of Santa Fe and spends much of his time at the Santa Fe Institute, which was founded by his friend, physicist Murray Gell-Mann.

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey chose McCarthy's 2006 novel The Road as the April 2007 selection for her Book Club.[38] As a result, McCarthy agreed to his first television interview, which aired on The Oprah Winfrey Show on June 5, 2007. The interview took place in the library of the Santa Fe Institute. McCarthy told Winfrey that he does not know any writers and much prefers the company of scientists. During the interview, he related several stories illustrating the degree of outright poverty he endured at times during his career as a writer. He also spoke about the experience of fathering a child at an advanced age, and how his son was the inspiration for The Road.

In October 2007, Time published a conversation between McCarthy and the Coen brothers, on the eve of their adaptation of McCarthy's No Country for Old Men.[39] During the conversation, McCarthy talked about his taste in cinema, claiming he's "not that big a fan of exotic foreign films" and citing Five Easy Pieces and Days of Heaven as "good movies" while praising the Coens' own Miller's Crossing as "a very, very fine movie". Regarding his own literary constraints when writing novels, McCarthy said he's "not a fan of some of the Latin American writers, magical realism. You know, it's hard enough to get people to believe what you're telling them without making it impossible. It has to be vaguely plausible."[40]

As reported in Wired magazine, McCarthy's Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter, which he had owned since buying it in a Knoxville pawnshop for $50 in 1963, was put up for auction at Christie's in 2009. McCarthy estimates he has typed around five million words on the machine, and maintenance consisted of "blowing out the dust with a service station hose". The Olivetti was auctioned on December 4, 2009, and the auction house estimated it would fetch between $15,000 and $20,000; it sold for $254,500.[41] Its replacement is another Olivetti, bought for McCarthy by his friend John Miller for $11.[42] The proceeds of the auction are to be donated to the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit interdisciplinary scientific research organization.


  • Cullen McCarthy (born 1962), son (with Lee Holleman)[43]
  • John Francis McCarthy, (born 1998) son (with Jennifer Winkley)
  • Lee Holleman, (1961-1962)
  • Annie DeLisle, (1967–1981)
  • Jennifer Winkley (1997–2006)

Published works


Short fiction

  • "Wake for Susan" (1959)[45]
  • "A Drowning Incident" (1960)[46]




Dramatic adaptations

Feature films:


  1. Don Williams. "Cormac McCarthy Crosses the Great Divide". New Millennium Writings.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Fiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-28.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "National Book Awards – 1992". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-28.
    (With acceptance speech by McCarthy and essay by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  4. Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo (2005-10-16). "All Time 100 Novels – The Complete List". Time Magazine.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Retrieved on 2008-06-03.
  5. "What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?". The New York Times. 2006-05-21. Retrieved 2010-04-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Retrieved on 2008-06-03.
  6. Bloom, Harold (September 24, 2003). "Dumbing down American readers". Boston Globe. Retrieved December 4, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Bloom, Harold (June 15, 2009). "Harold Bloom on Blood Meridian". A.V. Club. Retrieved March 3, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Lewis, Kimberly (2004). "The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature: McCarthy, Cormac | Books |". New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2011-10-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Arnold, Edwin (1999). Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-105-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Woodward, Richard (1992-04-19). "Cormac McCarthy's Venomous Fiction". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-08-24.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Woodward, Richard B. (19 April 1992). "Cormac McCarthy's Venomous Fiction". New York Times. Retrieved 25 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Phillips, Dana (2014). "History and the Ugly Facts of Blood Meridian". In Lilley, James D. Cormac McCarthy: New Directions. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 17–46.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Cormac McCarthy Sells First Spec Script". TheWrap.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Flood, Alison (2009-05-18). "Cormac McCarthy archive goes on display in Texas | Books |". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2010-01-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Jurgensen, John (2009-11-20). "Cormac McCarthy on The Road –". Retrieved 2010-01-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Cormac McCarthy Papers at The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX[dead link]
  17. Acquisition of the Cormac McCarthy Papers by The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX[dead link]
  18. The Woolmer Collection of Cormac McCarthy, Wittliff Collections, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
  19. Cormac McCarthy Collections at The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
  20. 20.0 20.1 Herlihy-Mera, Jeffrey. "Mojado Reverso; or, A Reverse Wetback: On John Grady Cole’s Mexican Ancestry in All the Pretty Horses", Modern Fiction Studies, Fall 2015. Retrieved: 15 October 2015.
  21. Ched (June 15, 2010). "An annotated Reader-Response: English Translations of the Spanish Dialogue in McCarthy's Western Novels". Reading Cormac McCarthy.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "A Translation of the Spanish in Blood Meridian" (PDF). Cormac McCarthy.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Stevens, Brent. "A Translation of the Spanish Passages in All the Pretty Horses" (PDF). Cormac McCarthy.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Campbell, Lt. Jim. "A Translation of Spanish Passages in The Crossing" (PDF). Cormac McCarthy.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "A Translation of the Spanish in Cities of the Plain" (PDF). Cormac McCarthy.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Jones, Josh (13 August 2013). "Cormac McCarthy's Three Punctuation Rules, and How They All Go Back to James Joyce". Open Culture. Retrieved 13 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Lincoln, Kenneth (2009). Cormac McCarthy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 14. ISBN 978-0230619678.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Crystal, David (2015). Making a Point: The Pernickity Story of English Punctuation. London: Profile Book. p. 92. ISBN 978-1781253502.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Hage, Erik (2010). Cormac McCarthy: A Literary Companion. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. p. 156. ISBN 978-0786443109.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Greenwood, Willard P. (2009). Reading Cormac McCarthy. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 4. ISBN 978-0313356643.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Fred Brown, "Childhood Home Made Cormac McCarthy," Knoxville News Sentinel, 29 January 2009. Retrieved: 27 April 2012.
  32. Cormac McCarthy: A Biography. Cormac McCarthy Society official website. Retrieved: 27 April 2012.
  33. Jack Neely, "The House Where I Grew Up," Metro Pulse, 3 February 2009. Accessed at the Internet Archive, 2 October 2015.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Jack Neely, "Jim "J-Bone" Long, 1930-2012: One Visit With a Not-Quite Fictional Character," Metro Pulse, 19 September 2012. Accessed at the Internet Archive, 2 October 2015.
  35. Wesley Morgan, Rich Wallach (ed.), "James William Long," You Would Not Believe What Watches: Suttree and Cormac McCarthy's Knoxville (LSU Press, 1 May 2013), p. 59.
  36. "Obituary: Lee McCarthy". The Bakersfield Californian. March 29, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. "The New York Times: Book Review Search Article". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. "Your Reader's Guide to The Road".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. "A conversation between author Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers, about the new movie No Country for Old Men". Time. 2007-10-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. "A conversation between author Cormac McCarthy and the Coen Brothers, about the new movie No Country for Old Men". Time. 2007-10-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  41. Kennedy, Randy (2009-12-04). "Cormac McCarthy's Typewriter Brings $254,500 at Auction - ArtsBeat Blog -". Retrieved 2010-01-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  42. Sorrel, Charlie (2009-12-02). "Cormac McCarthy's Typewriter Dies After 50 Years and 5 Million Words | Gadget Lab". Retrieved 2010-01-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. "Lee McCarthy Obituary". The Bakersfield Californian. March 29, 2009. Retrieved January 20, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  44. "The Cormac McCarthy Papers". The Wittliff Collections.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  45. McCormack, McCarthy (October 1959). "Wake for Susan". The Phoenix. pp. 3–6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  46. McCarthy, Cormac (March 1960). "A Drowning Incident". The Phoenix. pp. 3–4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  47. "Author Cormac McCarthy Sells His First Spec Script THE COUNSELOR". Collider. p. 138813.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  48. Russell Leadbetter (21 October 2012). "Book prize names six of the best in search for winner". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 21 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  51. Maerz, Melissa (2011-01-09). "Midseason Television preview: 'The Sunset Limited'". Los Angeles Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  52. "John Hillcoat Hits The Road". Empire Online UK.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  53. "Is Guy Pearce Going on 'The Road'?". November 5, 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
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  55. Zeitchik, Steven (2008-10-18). "Road rerouted into 2009 release schedule". The Hollywood Reporter. Reuters.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  56. Rooney, David (2013-08-31). "Child of God: Venice Review". The Hollywood Reporter.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  57. Staskiewicz, Keith. "EW exclusive: James Franco talks directing William Faulkner, and how Jacob from 'Lost' helped him land 'Blood Meridian'". Retrieved September 28, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  58. Anderton, Ethan. "James Franco Maybe Adapting 'As I Lay Dying' & 'Blood Meridian'". Retrieved September 28, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Frye, Steven (2009). Understanding Cormac McCarthy. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1570038396.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Frye, Steven, ed. (2013). The Cambridge Companion to Cormac McCarthy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1107644809.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value). (updated version published 26 October 2011)
  • "Connecting Science and Art". Science Friday. 8 April 2011. Retrieved 25 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links