Sunday, July 19, 2009

Frank McCourt, Author, 1930 - 2009

The world has lost a great voice: Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes, 'Tis, and Teacher Man, died Sunday, 19 July 2009.

FDL writer Cynthia Kouril, who met Himself, talks of McCourt and what he meant to Irish-Americans.

I am so sad. I remember when he would hold forth at the White Horse Tavern in the Village. He had such an agile mind and strung words together like fine jewels. He was an artist and words were his palette.

I remember one Sunday, going there for brunch with Margaret Breen, and it was our great good fortune to be there when “himself” was telling stories. I don’t think that either of us girls said a word, just ate our brown bread, eggs and tea and listened in awe.

The New York Times has a touching story of his childhood in the obit:

he described a childhood of terrible deprivation. After Mr. McCourt’s alcoholic father abandoned the family, his mother — the Angela of the title — begged on the streets of Limerick to keep him and his three brothers meagerly fed, poorly clothed and housed in a basement flat with no bathroom and a thriving population of vermin. The book’s clear-eyed look at childhood misery, its incongruously lilting, buoyant prose and its heartfelt urgency struck a remarkable chord with readers and critics.

“When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived at all,” the book’s second paragraph begins in a famous passage. “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.

“People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.”

Difficult to let this magnificent writer leave us. I can do no better than to quote Kouril's fare thee well:

Slán leat. Mr. McCourt. Slán abhaile.

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