Author Frank McCourt dies
Frank McCourt was an Irish-American raconteur and memoirist whose abilities gained a world-wide audience only after entering retirement. Prior to springing to international acclaim, Frank had been a public school teacher for 30 years and was fondly regarded as a jovial and well renowned New Yorker. The Pulitzer Prize-winning, "Angela's Ashes", catapulted him to prominence within the literary fraternity, and earned Frank McCourt a global audience.
Mr. McCourt, was being treated at a Manhattan hospice and was seriously ill with meningitis having been recently treated for melanoma (form of Skin Cancer) passed away yesterday (Sun. July 19th '09) at the age of 78.
The Irish-American writer’s path to international literary stardom began in 1996, when with the aid of a friend found a publisher in the form of Scribner for his then-uncompleted manuscript. This manuscript contained the barbed memoirs of an ordinary man who had led quite an unprecedented life! These memoirs were to become what we now know as “Angela’s Ashes”, which McCourt himself described as an “epic of woe”. Whilst only having an initial print run of just 25,000 copies, “Angela’s Ashes”, became an instant hit with readers and quickly became a global phenomenon. Such is its success the novel is now distributed throughout 30 countries and available in 25 countries. The book was to later gain a whole new audience when it adapted for the big screen in 1999 and starred Emily Watson in the lead role as the mother and Robert Carlyle as the stereotypical Irish father.
Always the raconteur, when asked about accomplishing such celebrity status whilst in retirement, McCourt responded in his distinct Irish accent by reciting F. Scott Fitzgerald;
"F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives. I think I've proven him wrong,"
McCourt went onto elaborate;
"And all because I refused to settle for a one-act existence, the 30 years I taught English in various New York City high schools."
However, he was to take this new found fame in his stride and was a regular guest at parties, readings, conferences and on gatherings on the celebrity and literary scene. He thoroughly relished the invitations to these social gatherings and compared himself to a "dancing clown, available to everybody."
"Angela’s Ashes”, a coming of age novel disguised as a memoir, recounts McCourt’s own life story as a native New Yorker (Brooklyn) who emigrated with his family to live in a ghettoized part of Limerick at the age of four. It is a graphic depiction, yet tinged with laughter and lyricism, of growing up in the then brutal Irish impoverishment through a young boy's eyes. Frank and his seven siblings (three of whom succomb to typhoid fever) were constantly resorted to begging and/or stealing food to merely survive. The loss of the three family members coupled with his father’s alcoholism drove his mother, Angela, into the throws of deep depression and an eventual emotional wreck.
"Angela’s Ashes" indelible opening line;
"Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood," prepares the reader's incredulity from the off!
Following the success of his initial literary offering, Frank went on to launch a sequel, “’Tis”, which narrates his life following his return to New York City. The final novel of the trilogy, “Teacher Man”, describes his teaching experiences commencing in 1958.
I will leave you with this compelling exert from “Angela’s Ashes" to reflect upon.
"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."