Monday, July 20, 2009

Frank McCourt, Noted Author and My High School English Teacher, Dead at 78

Frank McCourtImage via Wikipedia

Frank McCourt died today, after developing meningitis while struggling with melanoma.

Mr. McCourt won the Pulitzer Prize for his memoir "Angela's Ashes", but more importantly (to me, anyway), about two decades previous to his receiving literary accolades, he was my high school English teacher. I had him for two semesters, once in my sophomore year, and then again as a senior.

To say that his classes were a little offbeat would be a serious understatement. More often than not, Mr. McCourt, sporting bloodshot eyes and the faintest whiff of last night's pub, would conduct a monologue about the vicissitudes of life and the various lessons he had or hadn't learned from them, in his always witty and heartfelt Irish brogue. He'd go on little tirades about how his bankrupt brother could get credit cards but he couldn't, or how the historically recent notion of "falling in love", with its likening of romantic attachment to some cosmic dog shit that one accidentally steps in, has led human beings to plumb the depths of misery...

When the class's attentions actually did turn to the study of English, we would often read Mimi Sheraton's restaurant reviews in the New York Times, the prose of which could transport Mr. McCourt to a state of rapturous joy. It wasn't until I read Angela's Ashes nearly 20 years later, that I understood his fixation on Ms. Sheraton's columns. He'd grown up quite literally starving, and the eloquent superlatives lavished on edibles by Mimi Sheraton must have put words to his own lifelong fascination with food.

When I mentally time travel back to high school, I often find myself sitting in Frank McCourt's classroom.

He was my favorite teacher.

Rest in peace, Mr. McCourt...

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  1. As a young 2rd generation Irish Catholic My Grandparents were from Ireland, Dad, then me born in US, lots of aunties and uncles and "real" Irish, drinkers and tea-totalers, tea-totaling boarder in the attic we got when we bought the house (He used to drink with Grand-dad) Frank McCourt was like many of them (God, I see his picture, him andDad could have been cousins Angela's Ashes made me cry, too close to memories and stories. I later met Irish and aWelsh drawf in odd places, an Irish pal throwing hinself into my alcoholic-drugs counsin's grave. The cuppas (of tea) kept flowing as us females sat round the kitchen table. That life is all gone now as that generation died.

  2. I am Irish American. Our family has been here for countless generations. We are not new to the United States. However, my mother's family were as Irish as one can get. The old sod never left their thoughts or deeds even they have been here "forever". The constant and never ending arguments between the Catholic and Protestant factions in my family... Ach! Its a wonder anyone has survived. Frank McCort spoke so eloquently in "Angela's Ashes" and brought home what the arguing had been about in my particular family.
    Rest in Peace, Mr McCourt.

  3. Wow he was your teacher?? Lucky you! His books are among my favorites. I bet he was a facinating man.

  4. His "Angela's Ashes" and "'Tis" brought me back to thoughts about my family.

    "Teacher Man" brought me down to earth, that I understand my students, like me, are humans, with their own stories, and sorrows.

    TP Chuan

  5. Thank you Frank McCourt. Your wonderful prose allowed me to transcend, if just for a while, the terrible dreariness of daily struggles. You helped me to see how to delight in the cosmic jokes that tickle our lives in the most absurd ways.
    Thank you for all that you have done,
    Ye Olde' Swamp Granny