Frank McCourt

Portrait Frank McCourt
© Hartwig Klappert

Frank McCourt, the son of Irish immigrants, was born in New York in 1930. However, he spent his childhood and adolescence – for whose literary version he was to become well-known – in Limerick, Ireland. His family had returned there, entirely destitute, after a few years of failing to find the prosperity they had been in search of. His father continued to find work only sporadically and often drank away the welfare money at the pub while his mother fought a desperate struggle for the survival of her six children. McCourt moved back to the US at the age of nineteen. He went on to study Literature at New York University and taught English and Creative Writing for twenty-seven years at various schools and colleges, including Stuyvesant High School in New York City. Only after retiring did he fulfil his long-nourished dream of sitting down to write the autobiographical work »Angela’s Ashes« (1996), which became an international best-seller and set off a boom in literary childhood memoirs.
McCourt describes his adolescence in the slums of Limerick from the perspective of a child and teenager and often uses dialect and slang in his unpretentious narrative. The book opens: »When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive 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«. In anecdotes that are often humorous and ironic, McCourt tells – without bitterness – of poverty, destitution and family conflict, of double standards and absurd adventures with the institutions of the state and the church. »’Tis« (1999) picks up where »Angela’s Ashes« leaves off: At age nineteen Frank has at last saved up enough money to return to the USA. Once he has arrived, he ekes out a living through various jobs that come up, always struggling with social recognition and integration. He is stationed in Germany for a few years as an American soldier and upon his return he is able to persuade the admissions office at New York University to accept him as a student without a matriculation certificate. The author gives a summary of his career and further family developments in rough chronological order. In 2005 he published the third volume of his autobiography, »Teacher Man«, in which he describes and reflects upon his many years in teaching.
McCourt received the Pulitzer Prize for Biography and has also been awarded the National Book Critics Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the American Booksellers Book of the Year Award. In 1999 »Angela’s Ashes« was adapted for the screen, directed by Alan Parker. Frank McCourt died in New York on July 19th 2009.

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