Remembering Frank McCourt

by Suzan Abrams
I am heartbroken that Ireland’s illustrious writer, Frank McCourt, who authored a bestselling memoir featuring a poverty-stricken Irish childhood, Angela’s Ashes, has died.

My personal experiences are of having met and spoken to him twice, not too long ago.

Once was a signing at the Eason Bookstore on Lower O’Connell Street on a weekend afternoon, close to the Christmas of 2007. Having just published a seasonal picture book for children, McCourt was present to meet with fans.

He asked me where I was from. When he heard me say Malaysia; he talked to me a little about his time in Singapore, a country he had visited and thoroughly enjoyed. He asked me if I had been. He said that he had grown tired of travelling and just wanted to return home. He wished it could be Ireland. He kept saying he wanted to rest. At the time, he looked terribly frail.

I spoke to him again this February at the wonderful Emirates’ Festival of Literature in Dubai. I was amused to see that the now buoyant McCourt was in jest a lot of the time. He had put on weight and seemed in his element, cracking jokes that came complete with his sarcastic wit and an array of sardonic quips.

He talked in length about how when he was a schoolteacher nobody knew or bothered much about him and that suddenly at such a late age, fame would hit overnight. How he regaled us with the comedy of a life well lived and learnt and too, his trials posed from aspiring authors who often posted him strange manuscripts for which he never knew how to comment.

We would all see how McCourt so enjoyed speaking to a full house in Dubai. How glad I am now that Emirates and Foyles had chosen McCourt for a select author invitation and that he in turn, had so cheerfully given his time to the festival.

McCourt was clearly in high admiration and respect for Orange Prize winner, the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi’s writings and also her observations on life. He was deeply interested in all she said and at a panel discussion, kept probing her thoughts on issues he himself felt compelled to comment on.

May the beautiful Frank McCourt’s soul rest in peace.

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