His family left New York for Ireland during the Great Depression to escape poverty. Three of his siblings died in childhood and he nearly succumbed to typhoid fever at age 10. When he was 19, he returned to America where he first worked as a janitor and bellhop at New York's Biltmore Hotel. After serving in the Army, he convinced New York University to accept him under the G.I. Bill, even though he didn't have a high school education. After teaching high school English for three decades, he retired and wrote the 1996 memoir Angela's Ashes; his first book won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2007, he wrote a children's book called Angela and the Baby Jesus.