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Philip Roth Unbound & The Philip Roth Personal Library
The Philip Roth Personal Library welcomed hundreds of
guests during the Roth Festival in March. Thank you to everyone for
visiting and for sharing your impressions.
Members of the Philip Roth Society had already been at the
Newark Public Library in the days prior to the Roth Festival, during
which time they attended panel discussions and listened to keynote
speakers and also watched Mentiras, a literary performance by
Felipe Franco Munhoz. Many of the society members, who hailed from
Europe, South America, North America, and Asia stayed a few extra days
to attend Roth Unbound programs at the NJ Performing Arts Center or to
partake in the sold-out bus tours.
Those who spent time in the Philip Roth Personal Library
in order to experience the new audio tour, narrated by Morgan Spector,
found the experience insightful and educational. "Fantastic,"
and "delightful" and "history, literature, and their
beautiful intersections have never felt so alive" are just a few
of the many comments that kept pouring in.
Many visitors asked about specific books in the
collection, talked about when they met Roth or wanted to know how the
sophisticated design of bookshelves was created in the first place.
Some enjoyed a sneak peek into the adjoining storage room which holds
the “overflow” books. One scholar from London sat reading two or three
requested Roth library books with amazing concentration and a general
friendliness at the long Roth table as the crush of Saturday’s crowd
seemed to envelop him. Many visitors were either coming to the Newark
Public Library for the first time or had not been back in decades. —Nadine Giron
May 20, 1pm EST
Roth Book Club
A discussion of Nemesis with host Jon Curley
Visit shop.npl.org for PRPL and NPL merchandise, including notebooks, caps, and more.
Olamide Adekoya, First Place, Grades 9-10
Naomi Jeffries, First Place, Grades 11-12
Thank you to the NJ
Performing Arts Center for this unique poster, designed by Nell Painter and signed
by the actors and authors who
participated in Philip Roth Unbound!
The two first place winners of our youth writing contest,
Olamide Adekoya (Grades 9-10) and Naomi Jeffries (Grades 11-12), both
from Science Park High School, read their pieces at the NJ Performing
Arts Center during the Roth Festival on the evening of March 17, 2023, as part of the My Newark program. The event received wonderful coverage
in an article
written by TAPInto Newark editor, Mark Bonamo. Olamide and Naomi
shared the podium with Richard Wesley, Chisa Hutchinson, Mikki Taylor,
Dimitri Reyes, and Jasmine Mans.
Subsequently, on March 30, 2023, we held an awards
ceremony at the Newark Public Library, to which all who entered the
contest, nearly 200 students, were invited. The 6 winners, along with 8
honorable mentions, were given the opportunity to read their work
aloud. All were proud of their achievement, and we heard so many
wonderful, heartfelt stories.
But that's not all! The Newark Public Library also
published a striking anthology of the top 14 submissions. Copies of
#MyNewarkStory are available in the Philip Roth Personal Library. —Nadine Giron
Bring It On
“I was introduced by a friend of many decades, the
great Irish novelist Edna O’Brien, who may have surprised some in
the audience but didn’t surprise me when she said, “The defining
influences on him are his parents, his father Herman, the
hard-working Jew in a Gentile insurance colossus, and the mother’s
faithful husbandry’.” —Philip Roth quoting O’Brien from his 80th birthday
celebration in Newark in a preface to his collected nonfiction 2017
book Why Write?
That must be Philip Roth and his father, Herman,
standing so close together on Elizabeth Avenue looking pretty
serious in the late afternoon chill of approaching winter on a
Sunday in the 1950s across from Weequahic Park.
But wait, it’s not Roth but his fictional protagonist
and novelist Nathan Zuckerman who is describing a scene that took
place 20 years earlier standing with his own father, Victor
Zuckerman, in the 1979 novel The Ghost Writer. The young
23-year-old Nathan is waiting for a bus to get back to New York
where he lives and is beginning to get his short stories published.
He had just sent a new manuscript to his father and very much needs
parental approval. His father is about to tell Nathan why that
approval isn’t going to come this afternoon.
The new story in question is based on a heated and
rather mean-spirited family fight on Herman Roth’s side over a
trust left by a great aunt to a son and daughter. The money was
first to pay for the daughter’s two sons to go to college with the
remainder to go to her brother. But trouble started when the
daughter invaded the trust to send the two sons on to medical
school resulting in the brother filing a lawsuit to secure his
inheritance with a plan to buy a downtown Newark parking lot.
“You make everybody seem awfully greedy,” Nathan’s dad
says, as the two are waiting for the bus that runs on the
“But everybody was,” Nathan answers.
“That’s one way of looking at it, of course.”
“That’s the way you looked at it yourself,” Nathan
says. “That’s why you were so upset that they wouldn’t compromise.”
“And do you fully understand what a story like this
story, when it’s published, will mean to people who don’t know us?”
Nathan Zuckerman understands the angst and fear of his
parents’ generation of giving ammunition to anti-Semitic
individuals who would misuse a writer’s freedom and artistry to
portray Jewish characters the same as any the author
chooses. Nathan, who remembers as a child wishing that there
hadn’t been quotas so that his father would have become a physician
instead of a podiatrist, understands but needs his father at this
point to support him by agreeing to disagree.
“But from a lifetime of experience I happen to know
what ordinary people will think when they read something like this
story,” Victor Zuckerman is saying. “And you don’t. You can’t.
You have been sheltered from it all your life. You were raised here
in this neighborhood where you went to school with Jewish children.
When we went to the shore and had the house with the Edelmans, you
were always among Jews, even in the summertime. At Chicago your
best friends who you brought home were Jewish boys, always. It’s
not your fault that you don’t know what Gentiles think when they
read something like this. But I can tell you. They don’t think
about how it’s a great work of art…”
“I wonder if you fully understand just how very little
love there is in this world for Jewish people” he continues. “I
don’t mean in Germany, either, under the Nazis. I mean in run-of-the-mill
Americans, Mr. and Mrs. Nice Guy, who otherwise you and I consider
perfectly harmless, Nathan, it is there. I guarantee you it is
there. I know it is there. I have seen it. I have felt it,
even when they do not express it in so many words.”
“Oh look, we’re not getting anywhere,” Nathan says as
the talk continues. “Please, it’s getting dark, it’s going to snow—go
“It won’t hurt if I wait with you. I don’t like you
waiting out here by yourself.”
“I can manage perfectly well out here by myself. I
have for years now.”
Nathan sees the bus coming down the avenue and takes
leave of his father to get home and pack up to leave the next
morning for a rural artist colony upstate for the winter months.
At the same time, his father is not about to give up
and will go to a highly esteemed Jewish judge in Newark to help
turn Nathan around. The judge sends a list of questions to help
determine Nathan’s understanding of --and standing on--
antisemitism. And when some weeks pass and Nathan hasn’t answered
the judge’s letter, Nathan’s mother gets in on the effort, making
an emergency call to the writing colony to plead to Nathan to
answer the judge.
Nathan in turn, goes on his own quest --an overnight
visit to an eminent Jewish fiction writer not far from where he’s
living for the winter in hopes of finding the approval he needs but
this time from an artistic father. The novelist’s home in
the Berkshires is the setting for much of The Ghost Writer
novel and will see Nathan dream up an additional outcome in which a
young woman he meets at the famed writer’s home turns out to be
Anne Frank whom Nathan imagines did not die in the Holocaust but is
now there to marry him, tamping down any concerns about
antisemitism from his parents….and the judge!
In his 1988 book, The Facts, Philip Roth gives
us some of his thinking on what may have created his
generation’s “bring it on” attitude toward
antisemitism. Roth writes that as a young person growing up in
the 1930s and 40s, being Jewish and American was “indistinguishable”
in part because there was not a Jewish homeland that could foster
“the pride, the love, the anxiety, the chauvinism, the
philanthropy, the chagrin and shame” that had “complicated anew the
issue of Jewish self-definition.”
His generation’s grandparents hadn’t “torn themselves
away from their shtetl families, had not left behind parents who
they would never see again, because back home everybody had gone
around the village singing show tunes that brought tears to your
eyes,” he says.
“They’d left because life was awful, so awful, in
fact, so menacing or impoverished or hopelessly obstructed, that it
was best forgotten,” Roth writes. “The willful amnesia that I
generally came up against whenever I tried as a child to establish
the details of our pre-American existence was not unique to our
That silence about what had happened in the past left
a vacuum of emotional ties but a freedom open to gaining confidence
in their American identity going forward.
“I would think that much of the exuberance with which
I and others of my generation of Jewish children seized our
opportunities after the war—that wonderful feeling that one was
entitled to no less than anyone else, that one could do anything
and could be excluded from nothing—came from our belief in the
boundlessness of the democracy in which we lived and to which we
“It’s hard to imagine that anyone of intelligence
growing up in America since the Vietnam War can have had our
unambiguous sense, as young adolescents immediately after the
victory over Nazi fascism and Japanese militarism, of belonging to
the greatest nation on earth.” —Nancy Shields
#5 contributors: Nadine Giron and Nancy Shields
Philip Roth Personal
Library @ The Newark Public Library