Och Aye! Author of Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt Dies

July 20th, 2009

I often think of the book Angela’s Ashes. It is one of those tales, so vivid, so brutal, and yet so powerfully full of the force of life that it is impossible to forget. I spent some time today watching McCourt in various videos around the internet. He spoke of the authors that he clung to during his desperate childhood and guess what? They were all humor writers. P.G Wodehouse, Mark Twain… people that made him laugh in the middle of his miserable childhood.

Frank also credited his low-life alcoholic father who abandoned him, and the rest of his family to utter poverty for giving him a love for language and a great story. I often see this capacity in authors to see the good in their ‘captors’. Another example that immediately springs to mind, is Jeanette Walls, author of The Glass Castle. Both of these writers have an amazing sympathy and love for the very people who caused all of their misery. They have a generous perspective to see the good in the people who caused them the most pain. And they almost always have a ferocious sense of humor that helps them battle the demons of their lost youth. More often than not, it is one of their misbegotten parents that taught them how to laugh at life.

Want to give your kids a great gift?

Give them the ability to laugh.

To laugh at hardship.

To laugh at difficulty.

To see the absurdity of some of their most trying circumstances.

And most of all, to laugh at themselves.

We all need to be able to laugh at ourselves.

It is a basic survival mechanism.

I don’t think that there exists a single act that promotes mental health more.

After surviving a bitterly poor childhood in Limerick, Ireland, Frank McCourt came to America and eventually served in the Korean War. When his tour of duty came to an end, the GI bill funded his education and he became a teacher. Frank McCourt taught creative writing in New York public schools for 27 years. He retired in his mid sixties and wrote three memoirs. His first book, Angela’s Ashes won him the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie. If you have not yet read this book, might I highly suggest it?  It is a story that you will never forget.


  • I just finished listening to him a few minutes ago in an interview with Terry Gross on NPR. I read the book years ago and remember how wrenching a read it was. It was the first time I’d read a book about a life that was so desperate and dismal. Books like that give perspective. He wrote without bitterness or self-pity. His second book “‘Tis” was not quite as affecting to me.

    I’m trying to make sure my kids have some hardship to laugh at. Builds character.

    (kidding. kind of.)

  • Southern Gal:

    You know, I’m racking my brain trying to remember if I finished Angela’s Ashes. I know I started it sometime, but never remember finishing it. I don’t know the reason I would have put it down without finishing it. I’ll have to check it out and try again.

    You’re right about laughter. My daddy made sure his girls laughed every single day…even when he didn’t feel like laughing himself. I certainly don’t do the job as well as he did/does. My kids love being around their granddaddy for that very reason.

  • Lisa:

    My cousin introduced me to Frank McCourt just a couple of years ago. I just loved his way of storytelling, and yes, his stories just really give us a new perspective, don’t they?

  • Angela’s Ashes – what an astounding book!

    And you are right – laughing at ourselves is the path to … mental health and raised eyebrows.

  • You might like Teacher Man as well. Tis didn’t do it for me, Angela’s Ashes was awesome. Caused a lot of controversy at home in Ireland though. They were uncomfortable with facing the past.
    Teacher Man I related to as an immigrant coming to NY. He describes the incongruities so well. I got a kick out of him in the classroom.
    On the NYTimes website there are some awesome tributes by his former students at Stuyvesant High.

  • jamoody:

    Loved Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis….He was an incredible author…made you feel every emotion.

  • Such a loss for those of us left here. I loved Angela’s Ashes when I read it, but I never did read the other two. Maybe I’ll have to read all three.

  • Saundra:

    I loved “Angela’s Ashes”. I read it when it came out and it definitely stayed with me. I love a book that stays with you. I was always telling my extremely picky son how precious an egg is, I’m sure he’s sick of hearing it. It was a precious commodity in Frank McCourt’s house in Ireland and I can’t forget that.

  • I’ve never read Angela’s Ashes because my mom said it was mostly just depressing. However, I read The Glass Castle (which I heard about here and over on Nancy’s blog), and it is now in my list of favorites. I gave my mom my copy to read, and she didn’t care for it. Now that I think about it, though we do sometimes like the same books, I think my mom and I have very different perspectives on life which make it hard for her to like a book like The Glass Castle. I found it very inspiring while she found it depressing. I think I may give Angela’s Ashes a try. So far I’ve liked the books you’ve recommended, and perhaps I’m missing out on a really great one here.

  • Michelle:

    The Glass Castle is one of my all-time favorite books. Her family makes mine look like the Cleavers. I’ll have to check this one out.