Frank McCourt, the NYC public school teacher turned bestselling author of Angela's Ashes, a memoir about his harsh childhood, died at age 78 today in Manhattan. He had been ill with meningitis and his cause of death was metastatic melanoma.
Prior to being a published author, the AP says, "Until his mid-60s, Frank McCourt was known primarily around New York as a creative writing teacher and as a local character - the kind who might turn up in a New York novel - singing songs and telling stories with his younger brother Malachy and otherwise joining the crowds at the White Horse Tavern and other literary hangouts." He finally wrote Angela's Ashes 1996, while teaching at Stuyvesant High School; when it was published, NY Times book critic Michiko Kakutani wrote, "Frank McCourt, who taught writing for many years in the New York public school system, waited more than four decades to tell the story of his childhood, and it's been well worth the wait."
And in the NY Times obituary of McCourt, William Grimes writes that Angela's Ashes's "clear-eyed look at childhood misery, its incongruously lilting, buoyant prose and its heartfelt urgency struck a remarkable chord with readers and critics," and offers this "famous passage" from the book's second paragraph:
When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived at all. 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 alcoholic 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.
McCourt, who was born in Brooklyn but was raised in Ireland between ages 4 and 19, won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for the book in 1997. He also wrote two more memoirs, 'Tis, about his life after Angela's Ashes, and Teacher Man, about his experiences as a teacher, and a children's book, Angela and the Baby Jesus.