The NY Times and Daily News speak to former students of NYC public school teacher turned bestselling memoirist Frank McCourt, who passed away on Sunday. One woman told the Times, "We all thought, ‘He’s such a genius, what’s he doing just teaching us?’ Everybody thought he was destined for bigger and better things. And when he became a global phenomenon, we felt it was justice." Another revealed to the News, "I was not a big reader back then, until he taught us 'Moby Dick.' I mean, the whale was in our classroom. I read everything ['Moby Dick' author Herman] Melville wrote after that. All of a sudden, I spent all my time in the library because of Frank McCourt."

On his blog, Peter Kaufman has a lovely memory of his four semesters of creative writing with McCourt. Here's an excerpt:

The first part of the week would be spent with McCourt sitting at the front of the class, telling stories. Telling us that contrary to our adolescent view that "nothing is happening", our lives were filled with amazing things, on a daily basis.

He'd tell stories of his poor childhood in Ireland, and also about arguing with his wife all night, and in the morning, blearily-eyed putting zinc-oxide instead of toothpaste on his toothbrush the following morning. For us mostly middle-class kids, we almost couldn't believe the extent of the poverty he'd talk about, yet we'd also laugh a lot - something he clearly wanted...
On Fridays, he'd sit in the back of the room, and kids would step up to his desk and take a turn telling their stories. He'd love to hear them, and more than the writing, he'd very  much appreciate the oral tradition. I only slowly realized, many years after I graduated, that it was story-telling that he was really trying to teach.

Kaufman adds, "I commend anyone to the CD editions of his books, because as good a writer as he was, he was a story-teller nonpareil." You can hear a little of McCourt's storytelling in this NPR interview from 1996 about his first book, Angela's Ashes. And, also on NPR, McCourt discussed his two other memoirs, 'Tis and
Teacher Man
.

In an excerpt of Teacher Man, McCourt explained why it took him until age 66 to get published, "I was teaching, that's what took me so long. Not in college or university, where you have all the time in the world for writing and other diversions, but in four different New York City public high schools. (I have read novels about the lives of university professors where they seemed to be so busy with adultery and academic in-fighting you wonder where they found time to squeeze in a little teaching.) When you teach five high school classes a day, five days a week, you're not inclined to go home to clear your head and fashion deathless prose. After a day of five classes your head is filled with the clamor of the classroom."