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The best thing I learned from Frank McCourt

July 23, 2009
Frank McCourt
Frank McCourt

I felt a particular loss when I heard of the death of Frank McCourt.  Like many people, I feel a small personal connection. My sister Karyn, who later became an author herself, was a student of his at Stuyvesant High School.  So whenever I met him at a book signing or at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference, as I did several times, I always had an excuse for a small personal message about Karyn.  He remembered her well, and more than once expressed admiration for her ground breaking book about finding a solution for her son’s autism.

But my best memory of Frank McCourt came from a talk he gave at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference one summer to a break-out group in a small white tent.  In his talk, which he had entitled “On Being a Late Bloomer,” he spoke of all those frustrated years in which he had been forced to defer his dream of writing his memoir because he simply had to earn a living at a full-time job.  He described his weekends when he fully intended to write, but instead found himself sleeping late, at a Saturday night movie with his wife, or buried in student papers most of every Sunday.

Then he said something truly astounding. “I began writing Angela’s Ashes at age sixty-four,” he said.  Only after he retired – “Also, I had to marry the right woman” – could he finally begin to write seriously. And so he did.

These are words I  have repeated often, verbatim, to my adult writing students at the Westport Writers’ Workshop.   If ever there was an example that it’s never too late to pursue one’s desire to become a writer – or any other impossible dream, for that matter –  that was it.

There was something else I well remember his saying that day.  “I knew that if one day I lay on my deathbed and knew I had not told my story, I would go down howling.” 

How glorious for him – and for us – that that’s not what happened.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2009 9:58 pm

    Thank you! You often write very interesting articles. You improved my mood.

  2. August 3, 2009 5:20 pm

    Really Good Work…. You Helping People A lot

  3. August 4, 2009 4:36 am

    I liked it. So much useful material. I read with great interest.

  4. patricefitz permalink
    October 15, 2009 7:17 pm

    I too met Frank McCourt in person — and he was friendly and real. Since I listened to Angela’s Ashes via audiobook, I got a healthy dose of his brogue, and his personality.

    All of what you say about him here resonates with me — starting to write the important book late in life, needing to be married to the right person, and feeling that it’s so critical to write our stories down that if we don’t, we’ll regret it forever.

    I try to keep these thoughts in front of me as I slog through another draft.

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