Book Lovers Blog

July 21, 2009

The Legacy of Frank McCourt

Filed under: About authors — Nora Quiason @ 3:01 am

“It was, of course, a miserable childhood. The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests, bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.” Thus starts Frank McCourt’s memoir of his childhood in his first book, Angela’s Ashes.

In 1996,  at the age of 66, Frank McCourt published his memoir, Angela’s Ashes, intending only to tell his story and getting listed in the Library of Congress.  The book became a bestseller and McCourt became an instant phenomenon, the book earning him, among other awards, the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for biography.   Frank McCourt died on July 19,2009.  He was 78.

Born in New York City of Irish immigrant parents, Frank McCourt grew up in Limerick, Ireland when his father, unable to find work,  returned the family to his native hometown.  McCourt chronicled a childhood of poverty, hunger, disease and squalor.  His father, an alcoholic, and frequently absent  eventually abandoned the family. McCourt, the oldest child, worked, begged and stole to support the family.  At nineteen, McCourt found his way back to New York City, served in the military and subsequently went to college on the GI bill.He saved enough money to bring his brothers back to the US.  He spent 30 years teaching English and  Creative Writing to students in the New York City Public Schools.  Angela’s Ashes was published after his retirement.  The book was later adapted into a movie.  McCourt went on to write T’is, a memoir of his early adult life, Teacher Man about his experiences as a teacher and Angela and the Baby Jesus, a children’s Christmas book.  He was famous for his wit and humor.  He was a musician and playwright.  He and his brother Malachy wrote a humorous Broadway show about their lives. He advocated for listening to teachers instead of politicians.

One of McCourt’s legacy is in creating a genre of the memoir as a poignant tragic-comedy and a celebration of life.  Even as he described a miserable childhood,  he wrote with humor and love, absent anger or bitterness.  Not that there was none in his life.  In interviews, McCourt talked about having to overcome the shame, anger and psychological burden of poverty before he could find the voice to tell the story.  While he encouraged his students to write about the story of their own lives with pride, it was not until his later years that he found the right voice to tell his story to his satisfaction (and to our good fortune.)

McCourt inspired not only his students but his readers as well.  We are fortunate that he was here.


1 Comment »

  1. love the way you convey so much good information in such a concise fashion

    Comment by charlie — July 28, 2009 @ 7:38 pm | Reply

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