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Frank McCourt
Frank McCourt

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Memoirist

NYS Writers Institute, January 24, 2006
4:15 p.m. Seminar | Ballroom, Campus Center
8:00 p.m. Reading (Introduction by William Kennedy)
Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue

 

PROFILE
Frank McCourt, Pulitzer Prize-winner, and one of the master storytellers of American literature, is the author of the new memoir, Teacher Man (2006), an account of his thirty-year teaching career with the New York City public school system. Renowned for his irreverant charm and self-effacing wit, McCourt first became a literary star at the age of 66, after establishing himself as a dedicated and beloved English teacher at McKee Vocational High School in Staten Island, Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side, and Manhattan's famous, fiercely competitive Stuyvesant High School.

 

A selection of the Today Show Book Club, the new memoir features hilarious anecdotes about life in the classroom, tales of McCourt's many battles with blockheaded school bureaucrats, run-ins with particularly difficult students and meddlesome parents, and a creative teaching philosophy.

"An enthralling work of autobiographical storytelling….Anyone who has ever faced a classroom of yawning, slouching adolescents will recognize the accuracy of McCourt's descriptions and applaud his honesty." - Philip Lopate, Los Angeles Times

"McCourt has a compulsion to tell us the story of his life, but he does it so well… that one couldn't possibly want him to stop. I wish I could have been in one of his classes." - Lucy Hughes-Hallett, London Sunday Times

Teacher ManTeacher Man is the third in a trilogy that includes the runaway bestsellers, Angela's Ashes (1996), a memoir of McCourt's impoverished childhood in Limerick, Ireland, and 'Tis (1999), an account of his early years as a struggling immigrant in America. Angela's Ashes received the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, Salon Book Award, American Library Association Award, Los Angeles Times Book Award, and Boston Book Review's Anne Rea Jewell Nonfiction Prize, and American Booksellers Association Book of the Year. The book was adapted as a major motion picture in 1999, directed by Alan Parker.

"The reader of this stunning memoir can only hope that Mr. McCourt will set down the story of his subsequent adventures in America in another book. 'Angela's Ashes' is so good it deserves a sequel." - Michiko Kakutani, New York Times (Angela's Ashes)

"magnificent voice is back in full, as captivating and soothing as an on-stage hypnotist. Regaling you from a bar stool or teacher's lectern, McCourt is utterly and always in charge of this… sweet, sweet ode to memory." - Gail Caldwell, Boston Sunday Globe ('Tis)

 

Frank McCourt was a visiting writer at the New York State Writers Institute on November 20, 1996 and also gave the Keynote Address for the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) Annual Conference in Albany on April 15, 1999. At that conference he was also a panelist on Talking About William Kennedy.

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive 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.

So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank's mother Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank's father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy--exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling--does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father's tales of Cuchullan, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel of the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.

Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank's survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig's head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors--yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance and remarkable forgiveness.

McCourt returned to New York City at the age of 19, where he worked as a high school English teacher for most of the next 45 years. Inspired by a writing project McCourt had assigned to his class, Angela's Ashes has quickly become an international literary phenomenon, which won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize.

Irish-American writer Frank McCourt's memoir, Angela's Ashes, has been on the New York Times Book Review Best Sellers list for nonfiction for 52 weeks (9/97), and has been universally praised by critics. Newsweek called it "splendid," the Boston Globe said "lyrical" and the New York Times termed this first book by the 67 year old McCourt "stunning."

Lauded for his generosity and wit, McCourt framed his reminiscence of growing up poor and neglected in Limerick, Ireland in prose as both heartrending and tender. "What distinguishes his story is not just the poverty and misery, which are ample" the Detroit Free Press observed, "but the tone of voice. Rarely has an author demonstrated such perfect pitch."

Angela's AshesPraise for Angela's Ashes. . .

"I was moved and dazzled by the somber and lively beauty of this book; it is a story of survival and growth beyond all odds. A chronicle of surprising triumphs, written in language that is always itself triumphant." - Mary Gordon

"Angela's Ashes is a chronicle of grown-ups at the mercy of life and children at the mercy of grown-ups, and it is such a marriage of pathos and humor that you never know whether to weep or roar--and find yourself doing both at once. Through each fresh horror of the narrative, you will be made happy by some of the most truly marvelous writing you will ever encounter. McCourt deserves whatever glittering prizes are lying around." - Thomas Cahill

"What is it that transforms a childhood blighted by poverty, death and disease into a story that shines with love and leaps off the page in language or rare energy, music and humor? In the case of Angela's Ashes, I think it must be Frank McCourt's soul. This memoir is the best I've read in years, and I'm putting it on the small shelf in the company of the few books I don't lend--lest they're gone when I want them again." - Kathryn Harrison

"From the time we meet the embattled McCourts and their eldest son Frank, we are beset by the same tides of folly, passion, hilarity and loss that mark their lives. Once opened this brilliant and seductive book will not let you rest until Frank emerges, more or less reared, at the close of boyhood." - Thomas Keneally

"To be Irish or Irish-American of certain generations is to have known families like the McCourts--and curiously, to remember of them not the poverty, but the bitter wit, the sardonic inspiration, the wisdom from the corner of the mouth, the style that holds because it is laced with love of family." - Thomas Flanagan

"Frank McCourt's lyrical Irish voice will draw comparisons to Joyce. It's that seductive, that hilarious. But McCourt's near-starvation in the Limerick slums has a gritty drama somehow more suited for our times. Even his stint in a typhoid ward seems a blessed relief from daily home life on and off the dole. These people never lapse into self-pity (they can't afford it); they never lose their fire. In the annals of memoir, this name will be writ large." - Mary Karr

"Frank McCourt is a wizard. He inhabits the mind of the child he was with such vital memory that boyhood pain and family suffering become as real as a stab in the heart. His book has the wit, the language and the narrative grace of a fine novel." - William Kennedy

Additional Links:
Sunday Gazette Article
Sunday Times Union Article
Times Union Memoir Article

For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.