Frank McCourt, author of 'Angela's Ashes', dies
Irish writer won the Pulitzer Prize – and millions of fans
Monday 20 July 2009
The Irish author Frank McCourt has died in New York City, aged 78. He was best known for Angela's Ashes, a memoir about his childhood.
He had been gravely ill with meningitis and recently was treated for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. He died at a Manhattan hospice, his brother Malachy McCourt said last night.
Frank McCourt had spent many years working as a school teacher in the US, and enjoyed fame only after retirement with the publication of Angela's Ashes in 1996. The book was instantly popular with both critics and readers, winning a Pulitzer Prize and selling millions of copies. A film adaptation was released in 1999 starring Robert Carlyle and Emily Watson. He also wrote two further autobiographical works, 'Tis and Teacher Man.
"Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood," was the unforgettable opening to Angela's Ashes. As he described in the book, he was born in Brooklyn, New York City, on 19 August 1930, the eldest of seven siblings. The family moved back to Limerick, Ireland, shortly after the death of his sister Margaret in 1935, when she was just a few weeks old.
The book, and in turn his life, struck a chord with so many people as it is described the harsh realities of life in Limerick in the 1930s and 40s. His family lived in a run-down lane, sharing one outdoor toilet with their entire street. His father was an alcoholic who rarely worked, and tended to spend what little he earned on alcohol. For years it seemed the family subsisted mostly on bread and tea. Three of his siblings died, and he himself almost died from typhoid fever.
He returned to New York aged 19, but was soon drafted and sent to Germany. On his return he used the GI bill, a provision that provided education for returning servicemen, to enrol in New York University. He eventually graduated and began work as a teacher.
He was known primarily around New York as a creative writing teacher and as a local character, often to be found at the White Horse Tavern and other literary hangouts.
It was only when a friend helped him get his then-unfinished manuscript signed up by a publisher that the world at large learnt his remarkable story. Angela's Ashes initially had a print-run of just 25,000, but has now become perhaps the ultimate case of the non-celebrity memoir, the extraordinary life of an ordinary man.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 2 Pub landlord captures moment customer falls over on CCTV – just like Del Boy did on Only Fools and Horses
- 3 Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
- 4 Frankie Boyle on Scottish independence: 'In the Interests of Unity, F**k Off'
- 5 How to gain confidence and maximise your sexual potential
Penny Dreadful, series 2 episode 1, review: We're back alright, but on very familiar ground
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
Eurovision 2015: What date is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Game of Thrones, season 5 episode 4, review: Sansa in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Noel Gallagher 'cannot wait' to hear Oasis-inspired One Direction album but rants about 'pointless' Tidal and Spotify
In defence of liberal democracy
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
Andy McSmith's Sketch: Feisty audience is the real star of an enlightening show