Me & Frank McCourt

It’s a day late, but in honour of St. Paddy’s Day, here’s a little something I’ve imported from my old website, herkind.com. It seems appropriate just now.

Bravo! Rehearsal Hall, 2000

Bravo! Rehearsal Hall, 2000

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth our while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

I’ve read Angela’s Ashes a handful of times, listened to it twice on tape (read to me by the man himself), I’ve given this book to at least a dozen people as gifts for various occasions, or none at all, and seen the film (only once, generally I dislike books to film). It’s safe to say I’ve done some serious time with Mr. McCourt.

It’s hard to believe I resisted reading this book that makes you cry and then laugh through the tears. I guess I thought it was just too popular so not my kind of read. Hey, I’m a self professed book snob. Published in 1996, I think I finally got to it a couple years later, and of course, didn’t put it down til it was finished. While reading it I found a newspaper photo of McCourt and pinned it to my bulletin board at work. I simply couldn’t believe he had lived through his miserable childhood But live he did, and the literary world was richer for it. Of course, Angela’s Ashes is the ultimate father/son story, a topic which has always been on my radar.

Now, I’ve met quite a few famous people. Just about anyone you can think of – writers, musicians, actors, celebrities. It doesn’t faze me usually. But when wee Frank McCourt came into Bravo! (where I worked at the time) for a news interview, I suddenly felt very shy. Though I was determined to get my book signed I didn’t know what I could possibly say to a man who had lived ten times the life, and hardship that I ever would. Feeling nervous, I waited in the wings while the interview wrapped up and then timidly approached. Lacking the courage to say very much I just asked for a signature. A co-worker who must have known what it would mean to me later, snapped our photo. I shook McCourt’s hand and walked away. Happy.

When I got the photo I tucked it away for safe keeping. Then, when I moved to Vancouver, changing my career to full time writing and journalism, I framed the photo and put it the desk by my computer. Inspiration.

I didn’t know if I’d ever meet him again, but his book, life and this meeting had made enough of an impression.

And yet I did meet him again. A few years later, working as a producer on a TV show in Vancouver I had the opportunity to invite him to the show while he was promoting his book Teacher Man. Now, getting authors on this particular show wasn’t easy, it simply wasn’t the best venue for a considered interview. And, no one there expected to ever have the chance to score this particular author, but there I was one bright, sunny, early morning greeting Mr. McCourt again. This time I had to overcome my shyness to talk to him since I was producing his interview. We chatted in the green room about his teacher anecdotes, deciding which ones he would tell and discussing how the profession has changed since his early days.

He was quite simply a lovely man. And though I didn’t by any means begin to know him, I miss him and his unwritten words.

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2 thoughts on “Me & Frank McCourt

  1. Thank you for sharing your photo and your experiences with Frank McCourt. Although I haven’t read Angela’s Ashes…probably because I tend to shy away from this type of book, I think I understand why his book means so much to you and your two meetings with him mean even more. I’m so happy you had a chance to know this man Carla. Your photo is beautiful.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this, Carla. I envy you your experience with the man: one writer I wish I had met because he was also a teacher of English, a good one. What I love most about AA is the total absence of self-pity; he treats the entire unspeakably miserable and deprived childhood with humour and a sense that it was all “normal”. I also loved “‘Tis”, and his experiences at that industrial school in NYC (he bought all the copies of Catcher when it first came out, for his class because they weren’t getting on with Middlemarch! “Teacher Man” is sobering to say the least. He was a man who allowed himself to be known, a beautiful, funny (!) writer and a humanist. Cherish the memory.

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