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An Evening with Philip Roth
May 18 2011

The YIVO Institute was pleased to present a special evening with acclaimed novelist Philip Roth. Roth read excerpts from his new novel, Nemesis (2010), which tells the story of a terrifying polio epidemic raging in Newark, New Jersey in the summer of 1944 and its devastating effect on the closely knit, family-oriented community and its children. Through this story, Roth addresses profound questions of human existence: What types of choices fatally shape a life? How does the individual withstand circumstance?

Preceding the reading was a panel discussion with YIVO Executive Director Jonathan Brent, Bernard Avishai (Hebrew University), Igor Webb (Adelphi University) and Steven Zipperstein (Stanford University).

Philip Roth is an American novelist and one of the most honored authors of his generation. His books have twice been awarded the National Book Award, twice the National Book Critics Circle award, and three times the PEN/Faulkner Award. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 novel, American Pastoral, which featured his best-known character, Nathan Zuckerman, the subject of many other of Roth's novels. In 2001, he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction for lifetime achievement. He is the only living American novelist to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. His fiction, set frequently in Newark, New Jersey, is known for its intensely autobiographical character, for philosophically and formally blurring the distinction between reality and fiction and for its provocative explorations of Jewish and American identity. His most recent novel, Nemesis (2010) is about the devastating effects of a polio epidemic in Newark, New Jersey in 1944.

Bernard Avishai teaches business at Hebrew University. A Guggenheim fellow, Avishai holds a doctorate in political economy from the University of Toronto. Avishai has written dozens of articles and commentaries for The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Harvard Business Review, Harper’s and many other publications. He is the author of three books on Israel, including the widely read The Tragedy of Zionism, and the recently published The Hebrew Republic. His new book, Promiscuous: Portnoy’s Complaint and Our Doomed Pursuit of Happiness, will be published next year.

Jonathan Brent is the Executive Director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Brent served as editorial director of Yale University Press (1991-2009) and is founder of its distinguished Annals of Communism series. He has published numerous interviews and essays on Mr. Roth. Brent is co-author of Stalin's Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953 (2004); Inside the Stalin Archives (2008); and is currently writing a biography of the Soviet Jewish writer Isaac Babel. He also teaches History and Literature at Bard College.

Igor Webb has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. His memoir Against Capitulation was published in London by Quartet Books (1984). His poems have appeared in The New Yorker and Poetry (Chicago). His most recent publications include his book, Rereading the Nineteenth Century: Studies in the Old Criticism from Austen to Lawrence, published by Palgrave Macmillan (2010); The Death Paintings, published in the spring in the Notre Dame Review (2010); and the stories "Later" and "Reza Says" published in The Hudson Review (2011). His review of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, which first appeared in Partisan Review, is collected in Harold Bloom’s Critical Views edition of Philip Roth. He is completing a collection of stories, under the working title Buster Brown’s America, and is Professor of English at Adelphi University.

Steven J. Zipperstein, Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History at Stanford University, is the author or editor of eight books, including The Jews of Odessa, Elusive Prophet: Ahad Ha'am and the Origins of Zionism and, most recently, Rosenfeld's Lives: Fame, Oblivion, and the Furies of Writing. He has won the National Jewish Book Award, the Smilen Prize, the Leviant Prize of the Modern Language Association, and is the Chair of the Academic Council of the Center for Jewish History. He is currently writing a cultural history of Russian Jewry for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and is an editor of the Jewish Lives series published by Yale University Press.

Philip Roth Video