Frank McCourt was born in 1931 in Brooklyn, New York, the first of seven children born to Irish immigrant parents, Angela and Malachy McCourt. When the author was four years old, the lack of work in Depression era New York, and the death of McCourt's baby sister Margaret, forced the family to return to live in Limerick, Angela McCourt's home town. Limerick stands in the west of Ireland at the mouth of the Shannon River.
Things were even worse in Limerick, where the family suffered extreme poverty throughout the 1930s. Machalay McCourt was an alcoholic who was unemployed most of the time; when he did work, he drank what little he earned in the pubs of Limerick. Shortly after their return to Ireland, McCourt's twin brothers, Oliver and Eugene, died about six months apart of pneumonia brought about by poor nutrition and damp living conditions. As a youth of ten, McCourt himself almost died of typhoid fever.
By the age of thirteen, McCourts's father had moved to England and more or less abandoned the family. At times, especially when his mother was ill, McCourt had to scavenge for food to feed the family, which comprised himself, his mother and three younger brothers: Malachy Jr., Michael and Alfie. He was forced to leave school at the early age of thirteen. Though he had been a brilliant student he had no educational support whatsoeve, and thus had few opportunities in life. At fourteen, McCourt was hired by the Limerick Post Office to deliver telegrams and the money he made helped feed his family. While he could have taken the examination to remain permanently in the Post Office, at the age of sixteen, McCourt made a decision that was to impact the rest of his life. He decided to forego the job at the Post Office and work instead to save money to return to America. In this attempt, he went to work for Eason's delivering the Irish Times. He also wrote collection letters at this time for a local money lender.
At the age of nineteen, McCourt set sail on The Irish Oak from Cork, Ireland, for New York City, although the ship docked in Albany instead. In New York City, he worked at various jobs until he was drafted into the United States Army at the beginning of the Korean War. Upon his return home, he earned a college degree by utilizing the G.I. Bill at New York University and after graduating went to work for the New York City Public School system as a highly successful teacher. He taught at various schools, including Manhattan's famous and fiercely competitive Stuyvesant High School, for the next thirty years.
After retiring from teaching, Frank and his brother, Malachy, performed their two-man musical review, "A Couple of Blaguards," which highlights their childhoods in Ireland.
It wasn't until McCourt retired from teaching and determined to write about his life in Ireland that he found his writing voice and wrote Angela's Ashes, which, after it was published in 1996 by Scribner, sold over 5 million copies. The book has been published in 27 countries and has been translated into 17 languages. It won McCourt the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the ABBY Award and the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Biography--and simply made McCourt famous. Angela's Ashes was soon followed by his 1999 memoir 'Tis, a continuation of McCourt's life after he returned to America. Later, in 2005, McCourt published Teacher Man.
In 2006, McCourt won the prestigious Ellis Island Family Heritage Award for Exemplary Service in the Field of the Arts and the United Federation of Teachers John Dewey Award for Excellence in Education. He lives with his wife, Ellen, in New York and Connecticut.