When I met author Frank McCourt in 2006 at a book signing, I had no idea what to say.
Hundreds were lined up at a VIP reception at the Warner Theatre in Torrington to get autographs from the renowned author and teacher. Many of them had only nice things to say about McCourt, his writing and his most famous books like “Angela’s Ashes,” “’Tis” and “Teacher Man.”
“I’m a great fan,” said a woman named Jeanne from Harwinton. “He’s the best.”
“He has a wonderful story to tell,” said another fan. “He has so much to offer in terms of his stories and his wisdom for life.”
Being that McCourt lived part-time in Roxbury, Conn., he made frequent appearances at area book talks. Our newspaper covered these sporadically.
Since a friend back in Sweden had talked about “Angela’s Ashes” for years as her favorite book, I figured I should go to one of the events and at least get a chance to meet the guy.
I hadn’t read any of his books – I still haven’t – but I brought copies of his first two books and lined up with everyone else to get them signed.
“Are you a teacher?” he asked me when I got up there.
I assumed most people there were teachers. Or else I just happened to look like one.
“No, a journalist,” I said. I vaguely recall handing him my business card.
Then I tried to think of something to ask him, something clever or memorable.
I gestured around at the cheese, crackers and veggie platters and spit out “So, how do you like the food?”
A bit taken back, McCourt looked up from signing my book and replied, “Oh, I don't have time for such trivialities.”
McCourt, 78, died Sunday in a New York City hospital. He had been suffering from meningitis and melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer.
According to the Associated Press, McCourt was such a regular at book signings and parties that he considered himself a “dancing clown, available to everybody.” His friend and fellow memoirist Mary Karr said that a rare copy of “Angela’s Ashes” would be one that isn’t signed.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir has been published in 25 languages and 30 countries, according to the AP.