20 Jul 2009

Angela's Ashes author Frank McCourt dies at 78

12:28 pm on 20 July 2009

Frank McCourt, the Irish American author best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir "Angela's Ashes" that chronicled his impoverished upbringing, died on Sunday, The New York Times reported. He was 78.

A school teacher who came to writing late in life, McCourt won acclaim with his poignant, extraordinarily bleak picture of a childhood growing up in the slums of the Irish city Limerick.

Angela's Ashes brought McCourt a 1997 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and other honors.

Millions of copies of the book were sold worldwide and it was adapted into a 1999 movie starring Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle.

McCourt turned to his life in the United States for subsequent books, Tis and Teacher Man.

Born in New York City, he was the eldest of seven children born to Irish immigrant parents.

Already struggling when the Great Depression hit, the family moved back to Limerick, where they slipped ever deeper into poverty in the 1930s.

Three of McCourt's siblings died of diseases worsened by hunger and the squalor of their surroundings. McCourt himself almost died of typhoid fever as a child.

But his vivid prose captured the speech and quirks of a gallery of relatives, leavening a truly harrowing childhood with compassion and humor.

After leaving school at 13, McCourt supported his mother and brothers and sisters with occasional jobs and petty crime.

At 19, he returned to the United States, finding work at a New York hotel. He subsequently trained as a school teacher, only later becoming a published writer.

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all," McCourt wrote. "It was, of course, a miserable childhood: 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."