McCourt became a successful writer at an age when retirement beckons the majority. After a long teaching career, during which he taught creative writing to high school students, McCourt turned to his own life as the subject for his two memoirs, Angela’s Ashes and ’Tis. At first in New York, he attempted to hide his difficult childhood from others. While a student in a writing class at New York University, he was asked to write about an incident in his past. McCourt described sharing a collapsed bed, smelling of urine, with his three brothers. The instructor gave the composition high marks and asked McCourt to read it aloud to the class. He could not: He was too ashamed. Over the following decades, McCourt would write down incidents he recalled from his childhood and, with the encouragement of his third wife, Ellen, began what became Angela’s Ashes, which originally was to be a single-volume work.
Angela’s Ashes and ’Tis are written in the first-person voice, as are most memoirs. However, early in Angela’s Ashes a wonderful transition occurs in the narrative. At the beginning, McCourt writes in the first-person voice about the past as the past, as history, where he tells of his parents’ backgrounds in Ireland, their arrivals in New York, their first meeting, and subsequent marriage. Then, about twenty pages into his story, McCourt switches from narrating the past as history to narrating...
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