Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jill Krementz remembers Frank McCourt (1930 - 2009)

It’s hard to fathom how Frank McCourt found the time to write. He was always out and about and having a wonderful time. He and his wife Ellen didn’t just go to parties. They were the ones having the most fun — flirting with one another as though they were out on a first date. They rarely left a party without friends in tow, on their way to dinner or a nightcap.

Frank and Ellen traveled everywhere. Whenever I’d see them they would be leaving the next day for Australia. Or Ireland. Or they would be heading out to the Southampton Writer’s Conference, an annual summer furlough. After the success of Angela’s Ashes, there was book tour after book tour. This past March, in spite of his failing stamina, the McCourts went off to Tahiti.

Frank McCourt was a true storyteller, whether he was writing or talking. I will miss his lilting voice, his good cheer and, most of all, his generous heart.
Joseph Campbell suggested the necessity of a 'sacred place' for the writer. I don't have one, not yet. I have a dozen notebooks, an endless supply of pens. I'm a pen whore. I go from the one available to the next one. I have a beanbag lap desk and a comfortable chair. Someday I'll discover the sacred place. For the moment I'm a scribbling gypsy.
If I knew anything about Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis I'd be able to trace all of my troubles to my miserable childhood in Ireland. That miserable childhood deprived me of self-esteem, triggered spasms of self pity, paralyzed my emotions, made me cranky, envious and disrespectful of authority, retarded my development, crippled my doings with the opposite sex, kept me from rising in the world and made me unfit, almost, for human society. How I became a teacher at all and remained one is a miracle and I have to give myself full marks for surviving all those years in the classrooms of New York. There should be a medal for people who survive miserable childhoods and become teachers, and I should be first in line for the medal and whatever bars might be appended for ensuing miseries.

I could lay blame.

But then I take another look. I had spent childhood and adolescence examining my conscience and finding myself in a perpetual state of sin. That was the training, the brainwashing, the conditioning and it discouraged smugness, especially among sinning class.

Now I think it's time to give myself credit for at least one virtue: doggedness. Not as glamorous as ambition or talent or intellect or charm, but still the one thing that got me through the days and nights.
With his wife, Ellen, outside their apartment on the Upper West Side.

In 1997, Angela's Ashes was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Non-Fiction. It was presented at a ceremony at Columbia University ...
The author was accompanied by his wife, Ellen, as well as his Scribner's colleagues: Editor, Nan Graham, and publisher, Susan Moldow.
John F. Burns, who won the Pulitzer for his International reporting for The New York Times, gets an autograph from Frank McCourt.
Actress Emily Watson, who played the role of Angela, McCourt's mother, in the film version of Angela's Ashes. With Ellen at the publication party for Tis.
McCourt with fellow Irishmen, William Kennedy and Dennis Smith at a party hosted by Pia Lindstrom, January 27, 1999.
Frank McCourt at The Bridgehampton Library, July 26, 2002.
The AWP, The Annual American Writers Conference, was held February 2nd, 2008 at The Hilton Hotel. Billy Collins and Frank McCourt were among the speakers. Frank and Ellen McCourt at the memorial service for Gerald Schoenfeld, February 2009.
When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. 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.
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.