McCourt, Frank 1930-
McCOURT, Frank 1930-
PERSONAL: Born August 19, 1930, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Malachy and Angela (a homemaker; maiden name, Sheehan) McCourt; married; wife's name, Alberta (marriage ended); second marriage ended; married Ellen Frey (a television industry publicist); children (first marriage): Margie. Education: New York University, B.A., M.A.
ADDRESSES: Home—Roxbury, CT. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Writer. New York Public School system, teacher at various schools, including McKee Vocational and Technical on Staten Island and Peter Stuyvesant High School. Worked in Ireland and New York, NY, as a messenger, houseman, barkeeper, and laborer; costarred (with his brother) in vaudeville act; member of Irish Repertory Theatre; performer in plays, including A Couple of Blaguards and The Irish . . . and How They Got That Way. Military service: U.S. Army; served in Germany during the Korean War.
AWARDS, HONORS: Los Angeles Times Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award in biography/autobiography, Salon Book Award, American Library Association Award, and Boston Book Review's Anne Rea Jewell Nonfiction Prize, all 1996, Pulitzer Prize in biography, and American Booksellers Association Book of the Year, both 1997, all for Angela's Ashes; named Irish American of the Year, Irish American Magazine, 1998.
Angela's Ashes: A Memoir, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.
The Irish . . . and How They Got That Way (play), produced by Irish Repertory Theatre, 1997.
'Tis: A Memoir (sequel to Angela's Ashes), Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.
(With others) Yeats Is Dead: A Mystery by FifteenIrish Writers, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
(With Malachy McCourt) Ireland Ever, photographs by Jill Freedman, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2003.
Also author, with brother, of musical review A Couple of Blaguards.
ADAPTATIONS: Angela's Ashes was adapted by Laura Jones and Alan Parker into a film of the same name, directed by Parker, Paramount Pictures, 1999. 'Tis was recorded on audiocassette.
SIDELIGHTS: Frank McCourt taught writing in the New York Public School system for several years, but waited until he had retired to pen his first book, 1996's award-winning Angela's Ashes: A Memoir, which tells the story of McCourt's poverty-stricken childhood in Ireland. The critically acclaimed volume remained on bestseller lists for more than two years, and garnered McCourt both a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Three years later, McCourt followed up with a sequel, 'Tis: A Memoir. Robert Sterling Gingher, who described McCourt in World as "a consummate storyteller," noted of the author's autobiographical books: "We rarely acknowledge the magical power and mystery of the word, spoken or written, but McCourt's memoirs show that in nearly unimaginable seasons of extreme need, stories can keep us and our very souls alive."
McCourt was born in 1930 in Brooklyn, New York, to parents who had recently immigrated from Ireland. When McCourt was about four years old, his father, Malachy, decided to move the family back to Ireland. As outlined in Angela's Ashes, the elder McCourt had experienced difficulties keeping a job in the United States due to a drinking problem. He had even greater difficulties once he returned to his native country. Malachy occasionally found work as a laborer in the economically-depressed Irish town of Limerick, but would often spend an entire Friday night drinking in a pub. As a result, he would be too sick to show up for work on Saturday; ultimately he would be fired.
Between Malachy's sporadic jobs, the family would exist on the scant Irish version of welfare, but Malachy would often spend this meager amount entirely upon alcohol. In his book, McCourt recounts all of this, as well as his mother Angela's efforts to keep the family alive and together by economizing, borrowing from family, and begging from local Catholic parish charity. He describes how his baby sister and two twin brothers died of disease because their family was too poor to ensure proper sanitation and adequate medical care. McCourt himself contracted typhoid as a child and had to be hospitalized for several weeks. There, from the books available in the hospital, he first encountered the works of English playwright William Shakespeare, and he developed a love of literature that would later guide his work.
Several critics reviewing Angela's Ashes concluded that McCourt rightfully placed the blame for his family's poverty upon his father. However, McCourt also details his father's sobriety during the work week. "I'm up with him early every morning with the whole world asleep," McCourt recalls in Angela's Ashes. "He lights the fire and makes the tea and sings to himself or reads the paper to me in a whisper that won't wake up the rest of the family." Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times surmised that "there is not a trace of bitterness or resentment in Angela's Ashes." Devon McNamara reported in the Christian Science Monitor that "what has surprised critic and reader alike is how a childhood of poverty, illness, alcoholism, and struggle, in an environment not far removed from the Ireland of [eighteenth-century English writer Jonathan] Swift's 'A Modest Proposal,' came to be told with such a rich mix of hilarity and pathos." McCourt himself told McNamara: "I couldn't have written this book fifteen years ago because I was carrying a lot of baggage around . . . and I had attitudes and these attitudes had to be softened. I had to get rid of them, I had to become, as it says in the Bible, as a child." He explained further: "The child started to speak in this book. And that was the only way to do it, without judging."
Angela's Ashes also discusses McCourt's return to the United States at the age of nineteen, with one of his surviving brothers. The pair made a living with their own vaudeville show for a time, before Frank McCourt turned to teaching. "The reader of this stunning memoir can only hope," declared Kakutani, "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." Denis Donoghue, discussing the book in the New York Times BookReview, asserted: "For the most part, his style is that of an Irish-American raconteur, honorably voluble and engaging. He is aware of his charm but doesn't disgracefully linger upon it. Induced by potent circumstances, he has told his story, and memorable it is." John Elson, in Time, wrote favorably of Angela's Ashes as well, observing that "like an unpredicted glimmer of midwinter sunshine, cheerfulness keeps breaking into this tale of Celtic woe." Paula Chin, in People, hailed it as "a splendid memoir," while McNamara concluded it to be "a book of splendid humanity."
Angela's Ashes ends with McCourt's return to the United States on the boat Irish Oak. The last word of the book is nineteen-year-old McCourt's statement "'Tis," a response he made to a crew member remarking on the greatness of America. Thus, 'Tis, McCourt's 1999 memoir, begins exactly where Angela's Ashes leaves off. The book chronicles the author's struggles and successes during his first years in the United States. McCourt describes his first jobs, including cleaning at the Biltmore Hotel, hauling cargo, and cleaning toilets at a diner, gradually moving on to his time in the military during the Korean War and his unconventional education at New York University. Malcolm Jones described 'Tis in Newsweek: "Superficially, 'Tis is the classic immigrant's tale.... [A] melting-pot story where nothing melts....But more than that, it is the story of a man finding two great vocations—teaching and storytelling—and he wins our trust by never touching up his memories."
L. S. Klepp concluded in Entertainment Weekly that, although unequal to Angela's Ashes in "concentrated power," 'Tis "has the same clairvoyant eye for quirks of class, character, and fate, and also a distinct picaresque quality. It's a quest for an America of wholesome Hollywood happiness that doesn't exist, and it's about the real America—rendered with comic affection—that McCourt discovers along the way." Similarly, Library Journal reviewer Gordon Blackwell asserted, "McCourt's entertaining 'Tis . . . recounts candidly, and with humor where appropriate, his return to the United States." "In 'Tis, [McCourt] must live between the tormenting reality of [the American] dream and the sad past of his soul's memory," stated Gingher in World, adding: "The book's lyrical power of reclamation has everything to do with its author's ability to live between these worlds, which in some profound way are only vivid and intelligible in terms of each other." John Bemrose related in Maclean's that "McCourt ultimately clambers up the ladder of success. But much of 'Tis's charm lies in his account of how he almost didn't make it." Mary Ann Gwinn complimented in a Seattle Times Online review, "With Angela's Ashes and ['Tis] McCourt establishes himself a Dickens for our time, a writer who can peel the many layers of society like an onion and reveal the core.... 'Tis seldom loses its woeful tone, but it never loses its mordant humor, and it's struck through with a memory undimmed by the golden forgetfulness of nostalgia."
In addition to his memoirs, McCourt has written and performed in stage productions. He and one of his brothers created a musical review called A Couple of Blaguards. The duo has also spearheaded The Irish . . . and How They Got That Way, a play first produced in September, 1997, at the Irish Repertory Theatre. Back Stage contributor Elais Stimac described The Irish . . . and How They Got That Way as "a patchwork quilt of songs, stories, and celebration of the history of Irish in America." Its coverage of "all the major events over the past several centuries, as well as anecdotal sidebars . . . are sure to enlighten; and entertain."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
McCourt, Frank, Angela's Ashes, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.
McCourt, Frank, 'Tis: A Memoir, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.
Back Stage, January 14, 2000, Elais Stimac, review of The Irish . . . and How They Got That Way, p. 37.
Booklist, August, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of 'Tis, p. 1981; April 1, 2000, Karen Harris, review of 'Tis (audio recording), p. 1482.
Christian Science Monitor, December 4, 1996, p. 13; March 21, 1997, p. 4.
Commonweal, June 19, 1998, Daniel M. Murtaugh, review of Angela's Ashes, p. 28; October 22, 1999, Molly Finn, "Two for Two," p. 24.
Economist, February 27, 1999, review of 'Tis, p. 83.
Entertainment Weekly, January 22, 1999, Andrew Essex, review of 'Tis, p. 35; September 24, 1999, L. S. Klepp, "'Tis a Beaut: Angela's Ashes Is a Pretty Tough Act to Follow but Frank McCourt Dazzles Us Once Again in 'Tis, the Enchanting Story of His Adventures—and Misadventures—in America," p. 139.
Irish Literary Supplement, spring, 2000, Vivian Valvano Lynch, "Ashes through a Glass Not Darkly," pp. 23-24.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1996, review of Angela's Ashes.
Library Journal, October 15, 1999, Robert Moore, review of 'Tis, p. 78; February 1, 2000, Gordon Blackwell, review of 'Tis (audio recording), p. 132; May 1, 2000, Gloria Maxwell, review of 'Tis (audio recording), p. 168.
Maclean's, October 18, 1999, John Bemrose, "From Emerald Isle to Green with Envy: A Dreamer Tussles with the American Dream," p. 93.
McCall's, September, 1998, Donna Boetig, "Frank McCourt's Lessons for Parents," p. 110.
Nation, July 27, 1998, Patrick Smith, "What Memoir Forgets," p. 30.
National Review, October 26, 1998, p. 40; September 27, 1999, Pete Hamill, review of 'Tis, p. 54.
New Criterion, December, 1999, Brooke Allen, review of Angela's Ashes and 'Tis, p. 71.
New Republic, November 1, 1999, R. F. Forester, "'Tisn't the Million-Dollar Blarney of the McCourts," p. 29.
Newsweek, August 30, 1999, review of 'Tis, p. 58; September 27, 1999, Malcolm Jones, "An Immigrant's Tale: In 'Tis Frank McCourt Finds America and Himself," p. 66.
New York, September 27, 1999, Walter Kirn, review of 'Tis, p. 82.
New York Review of Books, May 25, 2000, Julian Moynahan, "Not-So-Great Expectations," pp. 51-53.
New York Times, September 17, 1996, Michiko Kakutani, review of Angela's Ashes.
New York Times Book Review, September 15, 1996, Denis Donoghue, review of Angela's Ashes, p. 13; September 14, 1999; Michiko Kakutani, "For an Outsider, It's Mostly Sour Grapes in the Land of Milk and Honey."
People, October 21, 1996, Paula Chin, review of Angela's Ashes, p. 42; October 4, 1999, Kim Hubbard, review of 'Tis, p. 51.
Publishers Weekly, October 4, 1999, review of 'Tis (audio recording), p. 37; October 4, 1999, Daisy Maryles and Dick Donahue, "McCourt Leads the Court," p. 19; November 1, 1999, review of 'Tis, p. 51.
Time, September 23, 1996, John Elson, review of Angela's Ashes, p. 74; October 4, 1999, Paul Gray, "Frank's Ashes: The Sequel to a Beloved Best Seller Is Glum Going," p. 104.
Wall Street Journal, September 17, 1999, Hugh Kenner, "Alas, 'Taint," p. W11; June 6, 2000, Joseph T. Hallinan, "Whose Life Is It, Anyway? Angela's Ashes Suit May Help to Decide; Financial Backers of Old Play by the McCourt Brothers Say They're Due Royalties," p. B1.
World, April, 2000, Robert Sterling Gingher, "Out of the Ashes: The Voice of a Child in Limerick Returns Transformed into That of a Young Man Finding His Place in New York City," pp. 255-261.
World of Hibernia, winter, 1999, John Boland, review of 'Tis, p. 156.
Writer's Digest, February, 1999, Donna Elizabeth Boetig, "Out of the Ashes," p. 18.
Independent,http://www.independent.co.uk/ (September 18, 1999), Mary Flanagan, "From a Town of Ashes to a City of Gilt."
Newshour Online,http://www.pbs.org/ (March 17, 1999), Terence Smith, interview with McCourt.
Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (August 31, 1999), Andrew O'Hehire, "In His Follow-up to Angela's Ashes Frank McCourt Confronts the Indignities of Immigrant Life."
Seattle Times Online,http://www.seattletimes.com/ (September 19, 1999), Mary Ann Gwinn, review of 'Tis.*