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Cat in the Stax: Behind the Lines of Angela’s Ashes

By Jenna Newman

hand holding Angela's Ashes book

Now that we’ve read through Angela’s Ashes (1996) as part of the Read with the Other Jenna book club, it’s time to go deeper into the McCourt family, the writing of Angela’s Ashes, what happened after, and where to find more resources. Frank McCourt shared with the readers his childhood, starting in New York and then moving to Limerick, Ireland. We learned the heartbreaking details of his father’s descent into alcoholism until he was no longer present and the poverty that struck the McCourt family.

Three out of Frank’s six siblings died in early childhood, yet four of the McCourt brothers survived against all odds. At the end of the memoir, Frank gets off the boat from Ireland, back into New York, ready to start a new life.

But now, we are left with the question: what happens next?

Frank struggles to gain a foothold in New York at first, which he writes about in his second memoir ‘Tis (1999). However, eventually he becomes a city school teacher where he taught for 30 years after getting a degree in English Education from New York University and a master’s in English from Brooklyn College. Frank talks about his experiences as a teacher in his third and final memoir Teacher Man (2005). In 1994, Frank married Ellen Frey McCourt, who he was married to until he passed away in 2009 from metastatic melanoma at age 78. Frank is survived by his wife, Ellen, his brothers, Malachy, Alphie, and Mike, his daughter, Maggie McCourt, and three grandchildren.

Although Frank took on the voice of his childhood self while writing Angela’s Ashes, he did not write the memoir until he was in his 60s. He struggled with the writing process until writing a small anecdotal section, where he took on the voice of himself as a child, and ultimately found the voice we see throughout the entire memoir. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 and was made into a movie by British director Alan Parker in 1999. 

The eldest son, Frank McCourt, however, was not the only McCourt to take his hand at memoir writing. Malachy McCourt, the second eldest son, wrote two memoirs about his life after traveling to America. The first, A Monk Swimming (1999) about traveling through America and then the second, Singing my Him Song (2001) about his journey from being a drunk to a sober, loving father and grandfather. The four living McCourt brothers also became the topic of two documentaries, shot by Malachy’s son Conor McCourt. The first focused on their time in Ireland, The McCourts of Limerick, while the second focused on New York, The McCourts of New York.

If you’re interested in learning more about Irish culture, history, or the McCourt family, I’ve linked to a variety of different resources. 

  • McCourt Family Memoirs
  • Irish Studies Librarian, Jutta Seibert, can be reached by email here or schedule an appointment with her here. More information about the Irish studies collection can be located here.
  • Falvey’s special collections also hold two distinctive collections focused on Irish history and culture.
    • The McGarrity Collection consists of around 3,000 monographs focusing on Irish history, literature, folklore, description and travel, music, and Irish-American history. This collection also includes a complete run of the Irish Press.
    • The Limited Editions collection holds almost an entire collection of limited edition books and broadsides printed by the Cuala Press, an Irish press in Dublin operating in the first half of the twentieth century. 


Make sure to tune in tomorrow on Instagram and Facebook Live as I continue to dig deeper into the questions and themes posed in Angela’s Ashes.


Jenna Newman is a graduate assistant in Falvey Memorial Library and a graduate student in the Communication Department. Current mood: Adding all the other McCourt memoirs into my Amazon cart.

 

 

 


 


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Last Modified: October 28, 2020