always being truthful to their experiences and conscious of the telling details—inadvertently taught him to write as well, he says.
Living in a Confessional Age
"Angela's Ashes" ' hallmark is its poignant depiction of a child trying to survive in Limerick Ireland, the scene of abject poverty and despair. McCourt's father was a ne'er-do-well roustabout—not malign, but weak and inept—who boozed away whatever paltry earnings he made. McCourt Sr. and his wife (the latter a devout Catholic committed to church teachings) had seven children, three of whom literally died of starvation.
In the memoir, McCourt recalls his own ongoing battle with hunger, routinely scavenging for newspapers that had hitherto wrapped fish and chips, in order to lick off whatever grease remained on the paper.
To this day, there are people in Limerick, says McCourt, who can't forgive him for what they view as either outright lies or worse, a betrayal: washing the culture's dirty laundry in public. "They are still trying to dig up some information—to expose me in some way," he says. "They're prosperous now. I don't understand why they just can't get on with their lives."
He adds, "I know we are living in a confessional age—although I think it's just a phase—and a lot of people are writing memoirs [or engaging in other forms of public confession] as a way of coming out of obscurity. That certainly wasn't my mission. My goal was to show the effects of poverty on the spirit."
He underscores how happy he is to be living in the States and considers himself a New Yorker, but believes America is also in the midst of spiritual poverty. But the spiritual poverty here, he notes, emerges not from paucity, but paradoxically, from excess that leads to emptiness and is, at the same time, an expression of emptiness. Robert Redford's film, "Ordinary People" is an important dramatization of that American phenomenon, he says.
McCourt plans to write a serious play about Irish-American family life that will bring together the American and Irish experience. The Ireland (and America) that he knew in his early years is gone. And the Irish now living in America—and especially their children—have undergone a profound sea change.
Part of that sea change, he regrets, is the absence of Irish-Americans in the arts generally, and in theatre in particular. "When the Irish came to America, they became practical. They were—and are—active in politics, construction, and journalism, but not the arts. If Irish-Americans stopped writing for the theatre or stopped coming to the theatre, it would have no impact on theatre at all."
A provocative statement and, perhaps, arguable. One thing is certain, however. McCourt hopes his play will be a first step in filling the gap.