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.