Tuesday, July 21, 2009
In the middle of all the celebrity deaths recently, I wonder how much attention will be devoted to the passing of Frank McCourt, the author of Angela's Ashes, 'Tis, and Teacher Man. I had the chance to review Teacher Man for the Charlotte Observer and to hear him speak at the November conference of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) that same year. Each of his memoirs recorded a different aspect of his life. Angela's Ashes, which was made into a movie, was the blunt account of a horrendous childhood. I consider it in the same category as Don't Let's Go the Dogs Tonight and The Glass Castle, unblinking autobiographical accounts that could only have been told by the children who at one time must have viewed their lives as normal but survived, even thrived. 'Tis brought readers the story of his life once he came to America.
Teacher Man, not only less brutal but filled with humor, interested me as a teacher. McCourt was a delightful speaker as well, gracious to an audience filled with people who knew exactly how it felt to walk in his shoes. I remember most vividly running into a teacher in the restroom who taught at one of the more disadvantaged schools where McCourt had begun his career. She said he still came back and contributed to the school's nuts-and-bolts needs.
While his death will certainly make the "Deaths Elsewhere" column of many papers, I imagine this week many of his former students will feel the loss more poignantly even than any of his most devoted readers.