Haven’t Read “Angela’s Ashes?”

Jenny Dwoskin

“Each one of us has dreams, a heart ablaze with passion and a mind like no other.”

As a young Irishman, Frank McCourt had a dream. He wished that he could escape his impoverished life in Ireland and go to America, the land of opportunity.

He did, and this Saturday he will share his story.

The pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt will be speaking in the Pavilion on Saturday. McCourt is best known for “Angela’s Ashes” and “Tis,” two books which have gained him national acclaim.

“Angela’s Ashes” is a memoir set in the 1930s that ventures through both the laughter and the tears of a Brooklyn-born boy who moves to Limerick at the age of six. The city is dilapidated and disease-ridden, a place where children’s shoes are a rare commodity.

Still, he is eager to learn the traditions and the history of his heritage, and for the first time he realizes what it means to have a father from Northern Ireland and a mother from the Repbulic of Ireland.

He learns to deal with tragedy after the loss of his younger sister and twin brothers. Unfortunately, the tragedy escalates as his father, too fickle to maintain a job and a victim of “the weakness,” squanders the family’s every last shilling at the local pub.

“When I look back at my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while,”said McCourt.

Yet amidst all of the sorrow, McCourt acquires a resilient sense of humor and an ability to see the light in every dark situation.

He knows that the only way to advance in life is to dwell on the happiness rather than to wallow in the sorrow. Absorbing his environment, he takes the good with the bad, never forgetting the people who have loved him and the virtues they have given him.

Angela, his mother, emphasizes optimism and confidence, telling him, “You never let anyone slam a door in your face.” Through the art of story-telling, a pastime highly regarded by the Irish, his father teaches him the importance of courage and tolerance.

And all by himself, he unveils the secret to living: one must discover one’s passion, the one thing which forces one to rise up in the morning. For McCourt, the passion is writing.

While hospitalized with typhoid fever, McCourt indulges in reading, Shakespeare in particular. “Shakespeare is like mashed potatoes,” he said, “You can never get enough of him.”

And from then on, McCourt only works harder towards his goal. “Stock your minds and you can move through the world resplendent,” said McCourt.

And at the age of 19, he was able to scrounge up enough money to buy a one-way ticket to New York, aboard the Irish Oak.

His book, “Tis,” is the sequel to “Angela’s Ashes” and elaborates on the tribulations of an immigrant in 1940s America.

McCourt attended New York University and after a series of temporary jobs he became a high school English teacher in Bedford Stuyvesant for 30 years in his birthplace of Brooklyn, NY.

“Angela’s Ashes” remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 52 weeks and earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1997.