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A look at the life and literary works of frank mccourt

Three decades after arriving in America from Limerick as an under-educated and undernourished 19-year-old, he turned himself into an author, his first and best-known book being his extraordinary memoir Angela's Ashes.

The book enjoyed considerable critical claim — though some critics questioned the veracity of McCourt's bleak depiction of his childhood, as well as diagnosing in him a severe case of self-pity.

A Remembrance of Frank McCourt

It was a bestseller, and was later was made into a decent film: His journey from poverty-stricken emigrant to literary star was epic and wholly American: However, fame and wealth did not go to McCourt's head: He had an unswerving, almost utopian, belief in the value of education and its centrality in the culture, which he advocated all his life.

There is some virtue in his detractors' argument that he founded the misery-memoir genre and thereby spawned hundreds of books, most of them by men, about their unhappy childhoods. But McCourt's memoir is much better than those of his many imitators, and the same goes for his later books. McCourt was born in Brooklyn, New York.

His father, Malachy, was from Belfast and had had a tangential involvement with the Republican movement during the Irish war of independence of 1919-21, an involvement he subsequently tended to exaggerate.

Malachy and Angela met in Brooklyn and married when Angela "fell pregnant"; the child who arrived after the wedding was Frank, and other children followed thereafter. Life for the growing McCourt clan was hard enough owing to the depression, but Malachy's alcoholism and the death of Frank's infant sister, Margaret, 21 days after she was born, also contributed to the family's woes.

In 1934, Malachy and Angela, plus their young children four at this pointreturned to Ireland, first to Dublin and then to Limerick, where they hoped, with the help of Angela's family, to start again and make a better life. It was not to be: Limerick in the mid-1930s was depressed as well as unwelcoming. Malachy's response was to spend what little money the family had on drink. Eventually they landed up on Limerick's infamous Roden Street, with just one toilet shared by the scores of residents who lived in the seven two-up two-down houses that lined the street; close to the Shannon, it was infested with rats and flooded regularly.

In 1940, aged 10, Frank contracted typhoid fever and was lucky to survive. The next year Malachy moved to England, where he expected to find well-paid work in a munitions factory.

At the start he sent a little money home to Limerick, but eventually dropped out of touch. Angela, in Limerick, was left to raise, on her own, the four surviving sons — Frank, Malachy, Michael, and Alphonsus Alphie ; she had lost Margaret and the twins Oliver and Eugene. With almost no state support, the family survived by a combination of scrupulous economy, great ingenuity, charitable handouts from the St Vincent de Paul Society, and, as Frank detailed in Angela's Ashes at the insistence of his brother Malachy born 1931 and also a writerthe relationship of Angela with her cousin, the unsavoury Laman Griffin: In 1943 McCourt left Leamy national school and went to work to support Angela and his siblings.

He did a variety of menial low-paid jobs: There are also reports that he stole from church collection boxes and local businesses, but this may be more what his detractors of whom there were many later on wished he had done rather than what he actually did. Whatever the case, Frank contributed hugely to the family exchequer. In 1949, McCourt returned to the US, hoping to do what his parents had failed to achieve when they went there in the 1920s, and, once he had found his feet, to bring his siblings and mother out to the US.

This last, as it turned out, he did manage eventually. Two years later, with the Korean war now under way, he was drafted into the US army. However, he was sent in the other direction, to Germany, where by luck — a major factor in his life, a look at the life and literary works of frank mccourt he readily conceded — it was decided he would make a perfect clerk.

He was trained to type, impeccably, and though he did not know it at the time, his true education started. Three years later he was discharged from the army and returned to New York and various unsatisfying office jobs. The GI bill enabled him to obtain a degree in English and education, and, in 1958, he started his teaching career in McKee vocational and technical high school on Staten Island.

His charges were 16-year-old mechanics, beauticians, gang members, criminals and taxi drivers-in-waiting. They did not want to be taught Shakespeare, let alone waste time in school.

Frank McCourt

A boy called Petey threw a baloney sandwich at him: McCourt's response was brilliant and audacious, as well as typical of his style. He picked the sandwich up, ate it and told the class it was delicious. Thereafter he learned to control his classes, either by getting them to write what they wanted to write excuse notes in the style of Eve, Judas and other figures of the past was always popular or by telling them stories about his Irish life before America, later retold in his books.

The experience was repeated at another tough school, Seward Park high, and out of class McCourt spent his time with journalists in the Lion's Head, Greenwich Village, or at his brother Malachy's bar — known, naturally, as Malachy's Bar — on the Upper East Side.

He had a few things published but it was his brother Malachy who, at that time, was the golden one, with a successful television and journalism career. During this period he met and married Alberta, and they had a child, Margaret Maggie. After 10 years the marriage foundered and they parted, not entirely amicably.

In 1970 McCourt returned to Dublin and worked fruitlessly for two years on a master's thesis at Trinity College Dublin. Five years later he returned to the classroom in Manhattan, to Stuyvesant high school on the Lower West Side.

The building was dilapidated, the corridors stank of rotten eggs, and he was expected to teach creative writing to students from the inner city, while his own work was published occasionally in small magazines. In 1981 Angela died, and three years later, with Malachy, he wrote and co-starred in the stage show A Couple of Blaguards — essentially the story of the brothers' existence as professional Irishmen in New York. He stopped teaching, and, in 1989, following a brief "mistake" second marriage, McCourt met Ellen, a Californian with a sunny disposition who worked in public relations for commercial television; they married in 1994.

For years McCourt had been drawing on his childhood and youth in Ireland for a novel but had not found the right voice for the story. Now, retired from teaching and happily married, he found that what he needed to tell the story of his life from birth to the age of 19 was not a fictional voice, but his own, and so he produced not a novel, but a memoir.

It took him 13 months to write Angela's Ashes: It was subsequently published in 27 countries and translated into 17 languages. The second book was also a bestseller, though not of the runaway variety like the first: Moving to a beautiful converted barn on 24 acres in Roxbury, Connecticut, made him a neighbour of Arthur Miller and William Styron, and inevitably his work came to the attention of Hollywood.

One critic described it as "two hours 35 minutes of rain-sodden tedium" — "there was a lot of rain" was McCourt's response — but this sort of criticism was small beer in comparison to the howls of outrage coming from Ireland.

Opinion varies on who won the bout, but it was probably McCourt. His third bite at his life concentrated on his time as a teacher in the New York City public school system. A look at the life and literary works of frank mccourt 2005some of which was written while he was writer-in-residence at the Savoy Hotel, London, took him four-and-a-half years to write and, besides being widely praised for the honesty of McCourt's description of his life as a teacher, it was also a bestseller.

Thereafter, having written his life out, McCourt hoped to write a novel, though in the event never published one. In May it was announced that he had been treated for melanoma, and last week that he had meningitis. He is survived by Ellen, Maggie, his granddaughter Chiara, grandsons Frank and Jack, and his three brothers.