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Frank McCourt 1930-2009

Ernest Hemingway once said something to the effect that the secret of being a good writer was to have a miserable childhood. If that’s the case, Frank McCourt was fully qualifed.

McCourt, who died last week, really should be the patron saint of something. Maybe the patron saint of writers who endure. If you’ve read his writings you know that he endured a rough childhood that included many memories of poverty and none of any Christmas worth recalling. He endured almost dying at age ten of typhoid fever.  And he endured teaching in the New York City public school system for 30 years.

He endured and then he wrote about it. And at the age of 66 his first book, Angela’s Ashes, was published and not only became a best selling book and a movie but it won the Pulitzer Prize. He would go on to write ‘Tis, Teacher Man, and Angela and the Baby Jesus.

He had a way with words that I really appreciated. And while he didn’t get published until he was in his 60s he had been writing in notebooks for 40 years. 

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived 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. 

People everywhere brag and whine 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 the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.

Above all — we were wet.”

                                                                          Frank McCourt
                                                                          Angela’s Ashes 

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