The Unstoppable Success of Frank McCourt
1997 interview with Frank McCourt from the Irish Voice
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Frank McCourt battling cancer: Read more
ONE warm morning last summer, Frank McCourt sat at a coffee shop off Third Avenue in Manhattan and told this writer about a new book he had coming out.
At the age of 65, the retired New York City schoolteacher and first-time author said he was merely happy to be publishing a book at all. Angela's Ashes, he said it was called, and if it was reviewed well in the paper and perhaps the New York Times, he said, well then he'd be happy.
"They tell me it should do pretty well," he said, speaking of the fortune tellers at his publishing house.
At the time, McCourt wasn't sure he could trust their word -- after all, they'd bought a book from him even before he finished writing it. Weren't they fooled once already?
Almost a year later, McCourt has found out just how correct those predictions were. Angela's Ashes has sold beyond anyone's wildest expectations, and on Monday it was awarded the ultimate critics' approval -- the Pulitzer Prize.
"Jesus -- the Pulitzer," said McCourt in New York on Tuesday. "This is the peak, the Olympus, the Academy Award, all them things, and now, I'm sorry, I'm going to bed."
McCourt was in Boston for an Angela's Ashes publicity reading when he heard the news.
"It was the A.P.," said McCourt. "Some reporter from the A.P., he called me at hotel in Boston yesterday at five past three and said how'd I feel that I won the Pulitzer. That was the first I heard."
That phone call arrived minutes after the annual Pulitzer announcement ceremony at Columbia University in Manhattan. McCourt was awarded the Prize in the biography category for Angela's Ashes, a harrowing yet hilarious account of his impoverished upbringing both in Brooklyn and his parents' native Limerick City. Although McCourt was a Pulitzer favorite since his winning of the National Book Critics Circle Award last month, the author says the news still came as a shock.
"Oh it was a shock alright," he recalled, "I wanted to get up on stage and thank my mother and my director and the Lord Almighty and everyone else. But in the end I was in my hotel room and I just thanked my wife Ellen."
After some champagne and the completion of his scheduled Monday evening reading at Boston's Brattle Theater ("It was a very festive reading, that's for sure," McCourt recalled), the author was put on a plane headed back to New York.
"We were supposed to stay over in Boston but when Scribners heard I'd won the Pulitzer they told me to get on a plane, that Katie Couric wanted my body," said McCourt with a laugh. "And when Katie Couric wants you body, you get moving right away."
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