Celebrated Irish author to address Univ.

Jessie Markovetz

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt will address the University Saturday evening as part of Parents Weekend activities, marking the second consecutive year a figure of international standing has headlined the festivities.

McCourt, best known for penning the best-selling “Angela’s Ashes” that document his early years and its follow-up, “‘Tis,” was sought to speak at the University by several groups over the past few years.

“Irish Studies … and CAT [Campus Activities Team] had expressed interest in having McCourt for several years,” said Tom Mogan, director of Student Development. “We thought it was the perfect opportunity to get him to come to campus … He can share not only his experiences about growing up in Ireland but also lessons learned as a public school teacher.”

McCourt, born in New York but raised in County Limerick, Ireland, spent about 30 years as a public school teacher after graduating from New York University, despite never attending high school. His resume includes a stint at the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in the city.

McCourt was prompted to write “Angela’s Ashes” at the age of 67 by a classroom assignment he gave to his high school students.

Dr. James Murphy, director of the Irish Studies program, feels McCourt’s appearance links well with the mission of the program, which emphasizes Irish literature.

“His books speak to experiences that relate to the backgrounds of many students, even if it’s one or two generations ago,” Murphy said. “But you don’t have to be Irish to get into McCourt’s world. He speaks to the experiences of people in other parts of the world.”

Mogan said about 1,400 tickets had been purchased as of Monday, though he expects the total will be closer to 2,000 or even 2,500 despite Student Development’s reluctance to aggressively advertise to the neighboring communities.

“We don’t want to exclude [neighbors],” he said. “But we don’t want them taking seats away from students and parents.”

Last fall, Polish revolutionary Lech Walesa gave the Parents Weekend speech through the aid of an interpreter, drawing about 1,500 students and their parents to the event.

Mogan cautioned against relying on an annual speaker, however, since the original weekend program called for a rotating schedule of activities. In 1999, for instance, several hundred parents and students were transported to the New Jersey State Aquarium in Camden.

“My fear is it will be seen as a tradition because we’ve managed to get two top-quality speakers in a row,” Mogan said. “We may do something different [in coming years], but there’s a lot of value to doing a speaker on Parents Weekend.”

Holding the event in the Pavilion, an atmosphere notorious in years past for its harsh acoustics, should not be a problem thanks to a $285,000 renovation to decrease reverberation times.

“I was impressed with the sound for St. Thomas of Villanova Day and some of the Oreintation events,” Mogan said. “We feel like sound will not be an issue.”