Writer and educator Francis “Frank” McCourt was born on 19 August 1930, in Brooklyn, New York, as the eldest of seven children. McCourt’s father, Malachy, worked odd jobs while his mother, Angela, worked to raise the children. The family frequently struggled to make ends meet and, after a long stint of unemployment during the Depression, the McCourts returned to their native Limerick in 1934. The family continued to flounder, however, sinking deeper into poverty.
When McCourt was 11, his father left for Coventry, England, to find work to support the family. By the time Frank was 13, his father had stopped communicating with the family, essentially abandoning them. McCourt left school that same year to earn money for his family, working odd jobs and committing petty thefts to help keep his surviving siblings alive. (McCourt’s only sister, Margaret, died a few weeks after she was born.) At 14, McCourt was hired by the Limerick Post Office to deliver telegrams and earned money delivering the Irish Times. While he used much of the money to help his family, he also saved some for his own dream: To return to America.
McCourt left Ireland at the age of 19, returning to the United States for work. During this time, he was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve during the Korean War. After completing his time in the service, he returned to New York City and used the GI Bill to enroll in New York University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education. After receiving his master’s degree from Brooklyn College in 1967, he taught English at McKee High School and Stuyvesant High School in New York City, retiring after 30 years in education.
After McCourt’s retirement, he decided to write about his life in Ireland. The resulting book, Angela’s Ashes, was published in 1996 and became an instant success, selling more than 5 million copies. It also earned critical acclaim, winning McCourt the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the ABBY Award and the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. In 1999, McCourt penned the follow-up memoir ‘Tis, and in 2005, he wrote Teacher Man, about his experience in the education field.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author died at age 78. In an interview two years before, he said, “I don’t want funeral services or memorials. Let them scatter my ashes over the Shannon and pollute the river.” Frank McCourt is survived by his wife, Ellen, and his daughter, Maggie, from a previous marriage.