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Remembering Frank McCourt

Mary Karr talks about being inspired by her fellow memoirist

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Aug. 19, 1930-July 19, 2009

A friend of mine sent me Frank’s manuscript for Angela’s Ashes, and you came across this completely authentic voice, and all this humor and magic that he brought to the language. And the psychological insight capturing the point of view of a child, which is fearless. I told him, ”You could sell snow to an Eskimo. You’re going to sell some damn books.” And he did! What a triumph. Here’s a guy from abject poverty, who spent the vast majority of his life teaching children. Here’s somebody who — unlike most of us writers, who sit around braiding our hair — has actually done something profoundly just. He made everybody else want to write a memoir. That’s the thing about certain kinds of books. You read Crime and Punishment, and suddenly you have a different view of the inner workings of your own head. And that’s the way it was with Angela’s Ashes. It raised the standard. The truth is, a good memoir is not about whoever had the worst ass-whipping. It’s about voice; it’s about language and how the reader enters into it. A memoir voice is the diamond in the sack of glass.

McCourt died of melanoma in NYC. Karr published Lit, a new memoir, in November.