The Six-Word Memoir Blog

Six More Words From Frank McCourt

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

By Larry Smith

As reported in the New York Post’s Page 6, I had a brush with fame with a very special storyteller who recently passed away, Frank McCourt. Since the Post had space limitations, and you highbrow SMITH readers may sometimes miss many New Yorkers’ guilty Page 6 pleasure, here’s the longer version.

When Rachel Fershleiser and I put together the six-word memoir books, we always try to have about 10 percent of the memoirs from celebrities—super famous names every knows like Stephen Colbert (”Well, I thought it was funny”), and lesser-known but nonetheless fascinating types like the British math genius Marcus du Sautoy (”Eureka! Margin too small for proof”). All that being said, it’s no secret that the kind of celebrity we both adore above all is the celebrity memoirist: someone who has risen to the top of his or her craft and serves as an inspiration to SMITH’s community of personal storytellers. Someone like Dave Eggers (”Fifteen years since last professional haircut”) or Nora Ephron (”Secret of life. Marry an Italian”). Or Frank McCourt.

Which is why I’ve been trying to chase down six words from McCourt for almost two years; for whatever reason, I could never reel in six words from this beloved writer. Finally, I noticed that the foreword to a new anthology, Brothers: 26 Stories of Love and Rivalry, was penned by McCourt. The editor of the book is Andrew Blauner, who’s always been a fan of SMITH. So I asked Blauner if he could pass along my request (which was more like out-and-out begging). He said he’d give it a shot.

On a Sunday morning in late March, I woke up to find an email from an address I didn’t recognize in my in-box. Subject line: DEEP SIX.

And then:

Larry: Here is my half dozen.

“Miserable childhood leads to royalties.”

Frank McCourt

I was elated. Then I realized: it’s only five words! I immediately sent him a note back, hoping he’d respond, yet freaking out that that one email was all I was going to get. To my delight, he wrote back right away:

I thought I’d get away with it. (”Brevity is the soul of wit,” said
that English bard.)
So…”The miserable childhood……..”

And that’s how we came to have six original words from one of our favorite memoirists. His short, short life story will appear in It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, out in January 2010 from Harper Perennial. We always say that all six words are equal in our books; but Frank McCourt’s half dozen holds an extra special place in this six-word world we share with so many readers and writers, famous and obscure.

Creative Commons photo from Flickr user elenatorre.

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    I love it, what a neat guy who died way too young. But then don’t we all!

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    Adored the “I thought I’d get away with it” reply. It’s a great comeback. It is a happy reply and one that led me to chuckle.

    I would really like to read the backstory to his six.

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    Love that his final request was also six words: “Scatter my ashes on the Shannon.”

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