Frank McCourt, Irish Memoirist, Dead at 78

BY Arts Desk  July 20, 2009 at 2:45 PM EDT

Monday on the NewsHour, Margaret Warner talked to author Roger Rosenblatt about his friend, Frank McCourt:

McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Angela’s Ashes” and “‘Tis,” died Sunday in New York from metastatic melanoma. He was 78.

Born in Brooklyn, McCourt’s family emigrated to Limerick, Ireland, when they were unable to find work in America. When his alcoholic father left the family (wife Angela, and four young boys) to work in Liverpool, Frank, the eldest son, stole food to help his mother. “It was, of course, a miserable childhood,” wrote McCourt, “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.”

NewsHour correspondent Elizabeth Farnsworth spoke with McCourt in 1997 about his first autobiography, “Angela’s Ashes,” which focuses on growing up in abject poverty. At the time of the interview, his book had become a critical and commercial success, though he had been unknown as a writer up until that point. Less than a month later, he won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for memoir.

In 1999, Terrence Smith interviewed McCourt about his book “‘Tis,” which picks up where “Ashes” left off. At the age of 19, McCourt moved back to the United States, and after serving in the Army, returned to New York to begin assimilating to life in America. “I sailed in on an October morning, one of those glorious autumn mornings…,” McCourt described to Smith, “You sail into the harbor, and Staten Island is on your left, and then you see the Statue of Liberty. This is what everyone in the world has dreams of when they think about New York. And I thought, ‘My God, I’m in heaven. I’ll be dancing down Fifth Avenue like Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers.’”

The 1999 interview took place at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, where the author taught English for decades. He chronicled that experience most closely in his book, “Teacher Man” (2005).

McCourt is survived by his third wife, Ellen Frey McCourt, his brothers Alphie, Mike and Malachy (who is also an author), daughter Maggie and three grandchildren.