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Remembering Frank McCourt, author of 'Angela's Ashes'

July 19, 2009 |  4:49 pm


 He won a Pulitzer Prize for autobiography at age 67 for his first book, "Angela's Ashes." Frank McCourt, a longtime English teacher, struck a chord with readers with his devastating memoir of growing up in poverty in Ireland.

McCourt, who had been doing well after cancer treatments, had contracted meningitis and was in hospice care when he passed away Sunday. 

Described in Newsweek as “the publishing industry’s Cinderella story of the decade,” “Angela’s Ashes” rose to No. 1 on bestseller lists, was translated into more than 20 languages and sold more than 4 million copies worldwide.

“At 66, you’re supposed to die or get hemorrhoids,” McCourt told the Hartford Courant in 2003. “I just wrote the book and was amazed and astounded that it became a bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize. It still hasn’t sunk in.”

McCourt waited until after he retired to pen his memoir, which he described as an "epic of woe" -- and he noted that he wasn't ready to write the book until his mother, the Angela of the title, had passed away. In that same Courant interview, McCourt said:

I certainly couldn’t have written ‘Angela’s Ashes’ when my mother was alive, because she would have been ashamed. Her generation and my generation, to a certain extent, were never proud of having grown up in poverty and adversity. We always wanted to give people the idea that we grew up in kind of middle-class, or lower-middle-class, circumstances.

The book also received a National Book Critics Circle Award and the 1996 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for memoir. In our review, we wrote, "By the end of this tender, harrowing and bleakly funny volume, the reader, too, is left marveling at how McCourt survived." 

How will you remember Frank McCourt and "Angela's Ashes"?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Eric Feferberg / AFP/Getty Images