M is for Frank McCourt

“Angela’s Ashes” won Frank McCourt the Pulitzer Prize – at age 66!  This memoir of growing up in the abject poverty of Limerick mixed heartbreaking tragedy with comedy, through the eyes of a child.   Before he was a published author, though, he had a career as an English teacher.  Oh, to have been a student in Mr. McCourt’s English class.  On his first day in the classroom, one of his students threw a sandwich at another kid.  McCourt picked it up and ate it in front of the class.  Then he taught about surviving starvation.

Frank McCourt told his stories to his students in the New York City classrooms, but he was unable to write them down.  The idea of writing in a child’s voice came to him while he was babysitting his granddaughter.  “I had this extraordinary illumination, or epiphany,” he said. “Children are almost deadly in their detachment from the world … They are absolutely pragmatic, and they tell the truth, and somehow that lodged in my subconscious when I started writing the book.”

Like Harper Lee, Frank McCourt did not expect fame.  “My dream was to have a Library of Congress catalog number, that’s all,” he said.  But it became first a critical sensation, then a runaway best seller. In 1997 McCourt won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Here is a four-minute video of Frank McCourt reading from “Angela’s Ashes.”  That’s author Toni Morrison with him.

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