Sunday, July 19, 2009

In Memory of Frank McCourt

I was very sad to hear tonight that Frank McCourt, 1997 Pulitzer Prize winning author of the memoir "Angela's Ashes," passed away today at age 78. His brother Malachy McCourt told reporters today that McCourt had been gravely ill with meningitis and recently was treated for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, and was in a Manhattan hospice at the time of his death.

Mr.McCourt was a retired teacher when he wrote Angela's Ashes in 1996. He had ended his teaching career in 1987 at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, where he had taught Creative Writing. I was fortunate to be able to meet him when Angela's Ashes was first published, as my son was a student at Stuyvesant HS at the time, and McCourt was invited by the Parent's Association to give a talk about Angela's Ashes and do a book signing. He was a wonderful raconteur, and his address at the book signing was delivered in a animated "stream of consciousness" style, as he described his life and the experiences that lead him to write his memoir. He also interjected that evening with many descriptive stories about characters in Irish legends and episodes from his teaching career. He was a gifted storyteller, and all of us in the audience were charmed by his abilities.

His second book, 'Tis, picks up the story of his life where Angela's Ashes left off, with his arrival in America at age 19. His 2005 memoir, Teacher Man, chronicles his 27-year career in the New York City school system. Though his two sequels were successful, as ‘Tis and Teacher Man were instant best-sellers, McCourt will most likely be best remembered for Angela’s Ashes and its iconic opening line: “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all.” But, using his characteristic sarcastic humor to leaven the bleakness of his upbringing, McCourt writes one sentence later: “It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while."

His life was a triumph over adversity and although he'd be the first to admit he was never a saint, I'd like to think heaven accepted him home today.

22 comments:

Claudia said...

I'm missing him already.

Willow said...

I haven't read his books, but I am going to go to the library and check them out right away~

Queenmothermamaw said...

Oh I am so sorry he is gone. I loved his book and am so glad you got to meet him. My grandmother came from Ireland as a tiny girl and all her brothers and it felt I could just feel his story. I guess you know his brother wrote "monks swimming." Being Catholic I love this play on words from Catholic prayers. "....blessed tis the fruit of they womb, Jesus." That is where Tis came from. It is so comical some of the interpretations we put on Latin words and prayers. Blessings
QMM

Cori G. said...

Hi PAt,
It's always sad when someone passes away isn't it? I've never read his book, but have always wanted to. Maybe I'll stop by the library to see if they have a copy.

xoxo Cori

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Oh, the world is less bright knowing this, Pat. May he rest in peace and find his new home everything his heart has longed for his whole life long. I enjoyed his books. He was definitely blessed with the Irish muse. Would that we could all put our feelings into words as he could.

XO,

Sheila

The Quintessential Magpie said...

And how especially neat that you got to know him. He was blessed to have known you, too! XO

steviewren said...

Oh Pat, I'm so sorry to read this. I've been a fan of his writing since I first read Angela's Ashes many years ago. I eagerly read the other two books as soon as I could get my hands on them. I agree with everything you wrote about him. I think he must have been a wonderful teacher, the kind a student never forgets. How lucky you were to hear him speak. He will be missed.

Slice said...

May he rest in peace.

Charli and me said...

I really like him too. It was interesting to hear him speak. Angela's Ashes was a great book. I'm so glad I read it.

The Rebels Yell! said...

Frank McCourt Pulitzer Prize-winning, ‘Angela’s Ashes’ will be a legacy to his talent and for which he will be eternally remembered! As an Irish-American raconteur and memoirist, he had the uncomparable ability to captivate his world-wide fan base with his unique literary style. R.I.P.

Tracy said...

This is sooo sad... Hubby & I were out & about his weekend, so I only heard the news today. I just loved Frank McCourts stories...he had such a way of story-telling. What a beautiful personality he was... I just loved his voiced too... How much he will be missed!

Marilyn said...

I miss all the books he could have written if he hadn't passed.... Sad day for readers!!
Love,
Marilyn
xxoo

Vee said...

I read this with a pang this morning...very briefly read, I might add...so little time.

I only read Teacher Man because I taught high school English for a short while. (I usually taught English at a business college.) It was a fun read, but left me thinking what a "loopy" way to teach. It would be interesting to read accounts from his former students.

He always seemed like a kind and gentlemanly person whenever I'd watch his interviews. It must have been wonderful to hear him in person.

Judy ~ My Front Porch said...

I'm so sorry to hear of his passing. I enjoyed reading Angela's Ashes...but haven't read the others.

How nice that you were able to meet the author in person.

Lynn said...

Sad.
When I read Angela's Ashes, I wondered how he survived too.

My favorite part was when he went out into his back yard and vomited up the body of Christ.

What writing!

Junie Moon said...

I'm so sorry to hear of his death. He was an amazing person and has left us all a thoughtful legacy in the form of his books and his enthusiasm for overcoming life's difficulties.

pammiejo said...

Angela's Ashes was indeed one of my favorite books to read. He was a great writer. PAM

Melanie said...

He sounded like a good man- down to earth, honest. I'm sure he will be missed. It is so sad when someone dies as that little piece of history is often lost with them. It's good that he managed to write it all down.

Sue said...

I read this in the paper today. He was indeed an inspiring writer. :-) Sue

Laura @ the shorehouse. said...

I was so sorry to hear this, too. I loved Angela's Ashes, and haven't read Teacher Man but definitely want to. As good of a writer as he was, I think he was even a better human being which is wonderful really The world's a better place for all of his contributions.

Jenny said...

Oh that's sad news,I hadn't heard. How lucky you are to have personal memories of such a great writer. His life and successful career from such dreadful beginnings were inspirational.

Nola @ the Alamo said...

Thanks for sharing your memories, how touching. I heard Mike Greenberg talk about Frank McCourt on "Mike and Mike" the other morning. Greeny was a former student, and spoke with such fondness and admiration; it was very touching.