author of Feeding Eden

About Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt was my English teacher for my junior year at Stuyvesant High School. He illuminated two tenets of creative writing that I have always remembered. That might sound like a light take-away, but I think that a good teacher doesn't necessarily change lives. Having taught English myself, I felt that if my students gained even one very important life-long skill or concept then I had given of myself. Mr. McCourt gave me the following:

#1 How Mr. McCourt illustrated "show don't tell" -
"Who saw Ordinary People? Oh, it's great movie..." He opens one class after silently passing back stacks of red-penned papers burdened with adjectives. 
"Now there's one scene where Mary Tyler Moore is really angry at her son," he continues, "Really angry. But she never says 'I'm angry.' Oh no, why say it? Why say it when you can slam a plate of pancakes down on a table. Slam! Now we know she's angry!"
And he smiles to himself as he circles the crowded and repeats, "That's it...Slam!"
#2 How Mr. McCourt taught "less is more" -
We read A Sun Also Rises (one of his favorites) and he asks,"Why is Hemmingway a great writer?" None of us can give him the answer he's looking for, so he orders us to "Open your books!"
At a particular page he reads one sentence aloud: "The wine is good." And then he reads it again. And again. He savors it. "The wine is good." 
And at that moment I imagined the goodness of that wine and I filled in all the extra sentences that Hemmingway understood he didn't need to write. Frank McCourt filled our world with many more great words and I'm sorry that we have to make the rest
without him.