Frank McCourt as 'Mr Lenihan' in 'Beautiful Kid'

Frank McCourt : A writer’s life


Frank McCourt as 'Mr Lenihan' in 'Beautiful Kid'

Frank McCourt was born in Brooklyn on August 19, 1930, the eldest son of seven children. His father Malachy (died 1985) and mother Angela (died 1981) were unable to find work in the depths of the Great Depression and eventually they made the fateful decision to return to Angela’s native Limerick, Ireland in 1934.

In Limerick, Frank’s alcoholic father – originally from Moneyglass, Co. Antrim – began to drink the little he earned, plunging the family into deeper poverty. Now living in squalor, Frank nearly died of typhoid fever at the age of 10; his sister and two of his brothers had already died of diseases associated with malnutrition and their dire living conditions.

In "Angela’s Ashes" McCourt describes an entire block of local houses sharing a single outhouse, which was flooded by the constant rain, and infested with rats and other vermin. Parents and children slept in one bed, and Malachy Senior squandered any spare money as soon as it was earned.

Soon after McCourt’s father left for Liverpool, where he found work but rarely sent money home to his family.

At 19, Frank finally left Ireland for the U.S. where he was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Germany. Upon his discharge he returned to New York City, where he used the G.I. Bill to enroll in New York University.

McCourt received his master’s degree from Brooklyn College in 1967 and taught English at McKee High School and then at the highly competitive Stuyvesant High School, where he placed a particular emphasis on creative writing and encouraged his students to engage in it.

“If you were at Stuyvesant and you wanted to write, you went to meet McCourt,” the author David Lipsky wrote recently. “It wasn’t, ‘Go read the complete works of J.D. Salinger.’ It was one word -- McCourt.”

Angela’s Ashes brought McCourt the 1997 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and millions of copies of the book were sold worldwide. In 1999 it was adapted into a movie starring Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle.

McCourt then turned to his later life in the U.S. for the material for his subsequent books, "Tis" and "Teacher Man."

The relentless bleakness of McCourt’s childhood as portrayed in the book was lampooned or scoffed at by some critics, affronted by McCourt’s decision to write an unvarnished portrait of his family and home city. However, the University of Limerick awarded him an doctorate in 1997.

McCourt married three times. His last wife Ellen Frey, who he married in 1994, is credited with encouraging him to write and publish his first and most successful memoir (both of his follow up books were also instant best sellers).

It May 2009 it was announced that McCourt had been treated for melanoma and that he was in remission, undergoing chemotherapy. On Sunday he died from the disease, with complications from meningitis, at a hospice in Manhattan, surrounded by family and friends.

He is survived by Ellen, his daughter Maggie, three grandchildren, and brothers Malachy and Alphie.


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