Our Annual Post In Which We Ask Who We Have To Sleep With To Get Philip Roth The Nobel Prize In Literature


We’ve complained in this space before that the Nobel committee isn’t the greatest fan of American literature. We’ve bemoaned the fact that Philip Roth probably isn’t going to win a dearly deserved Nobel Prize for Literature. In being denied this honor, one of Roth’s characters would probably observe that he would have had a better shot if he had grown up to be a doctor. Or a chemist. Or a physicist. Or an economist. Or whatever. Or just not Philip Roth.

Whatever. He didn’t win.


In the end, perhaps it is better that he doesn’t win. It’s not like he’s lacking for awards. The short list: Pulitzer, National Book Award (twice), Pen/Faulkner (three times), Pen/Saul Bellow Prize, the Man Booker International Prize. It’s not like his legacy needs validation from a bunch of cold Swedish fish. And it’s not hard to imagine a Roth-esque character: smart, accomplished, libidinous, persistent, lauded and yet still carrying the chip on his shoulder he’s been lugging around since the day he took his first step in the Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey; who relishes the annual rejection from Stockholm; who needs to not win the Nobel prize every year;  who needs to have at least that one door still closed to him in order to retain that sense of remaining on the outside. Sven and Gunnar aren’t impressed with the forging of identity in post-war America? Well screw them. Horace Engdahl and company don’t think a literary output producing compelling works more than fifty years apart warrants the Nobel? They can suck his StiegLarsson.

Nathan Zuckerman, Neil Klugman, Alexander Portnoy — those guys would have been bemused that the Nobel committee wants nothing to do with them.  (And yet. With the same breath that they dismissed ever needing, ever wanting, ever coveting a Nobel; they admit to themselves that it wouldn’t be undeserved, wouldn’t be grandiose to expect, wouldn’t be beyond the scope of reasonable aspirations to think that one morning when, slumbering in the pre-dawn the phone pierces his slumber, and in the moment he catapults his half-dead arm — some sort of cramp from sleeping funny — he wonders as it arcs toward the handset, could this be the call from Stockholm, and if it is, will it be rude to ask them to wait while he runs to the bathroom to pee, because, frankly it is normally the highlight of his morning and while Nobels are fine, certain rituals ought to be respected and observed.) Those guys would rebound from Nobel rejection by sleeping with someone inappropriate — and likely not Jewish.

So, it’s another year with no Nobel for the seminal American-Jewish author of the last century and it turns-out a decent chunk of the current century as-well. That’s fine.

He’s doing just fine without it.

Veiled References to Philip Roth on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Okay. Pop quiz for all you careful readers of Philip Roth out there. Where did Philip, as well as Nathan Zuckerman and Alexander Portnoy go to elementary school back in the ole Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, NJ?

If you answered Chancellor Avenue School, you are correct and thus will fully appreciate this bit from last night’s Daily Show.

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Literary Festival Director Interviewed on WTOP

You know you’ve made it in DC when Bob Madigan, WTOP’s Man-About-Town comes to your event. And thanks to our kick-ass Festival Publicist, Bob was there last night at the Opening of the Hyman S. and Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival.  Before everything got going, he took a moment to talk with Lili Kalish Gersch, our director of Literary, Music and Dance Programs at the Washington DCJCC. This is what it sounded like:

Philip Roth Will Not Be Here Saturday Night. Just His Work.

We’re sorry.

Although really it is the Washington Post’s fault. For some reason they thought that Philip Roth would be attending the Opening Night of the Hyman S. and Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival, which every year offers staged dramatic readings of work by some of the finest Jewish authors. One year we saluted Saul Bellow and Arthur Miller (both had recently passed away, they were not in-attendance either). One year we focused on stories about Jewish Urban Life. Last year we focused on Jewish Humor in Short Stories. This year we are honoring the 50th Anniversary of Roth’s groundbreaking novella Goodbye Columbus with dramatic adaptions from that and some of his other work, performed by four of Washington’s best actors.

So you should still come. Here’s why.

Philip won’t be there, but Neil Klugman will be. And Alexander Portnoy. And a version of the Philip Roth that appears in books like Patrimony and The Facts. The evening will be a way of looking at the work of an author widely acknowledged as one of the greatest writers of the last 50 years.

In the end it is the writing, and not the writer that matters most.

So we’re sorry if you are disappointed that Philip Roth won’t be there. In our defense, in none of our materials did we claim he would be — not even metaphorically — present. But we’ve got plenty of other writers who actually will be here, live and in the flesh, over the next two weeks. Great writers like Zoe Heller and Dara Horn and Binnie Kirshenbaum; important works of non-fiction about art in the Great Depression, the birth of Barbie, surviving infertility, a biography of Louis Brandeis and the amazing but true story of how the Israeli secret-service captured Adolf Eichmann.

The writer for the next 50 years is quite likely among our offerings. So, this is not how we wanted to get your attention. But since we now have it… you should come. Philip would want it that way.

In retrospect, perhaps Philip Roth shouldn’t have called the protagonist in American Pastoral “The Swede”

Why Philip Roth won’t be winning the Nobel Prize for Literature anytime soon….

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — Bad news for American writers hoping for a Nobel Prize next week: the top member of the award jury believes the United States is too insular and ignorant to compete with Europe when it comes to great writing.

Counters the head of the U.S. National Book Foundation: “Put him in touch with me, and I’ll send him a reading list.”

As the Swedish Academy enters final deliberations for this year’s award, permanent secretary Horace Engdahl said it’s no coincidence that most winners are European.

“Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world … not the United States,” he told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

He said the 16-member award jury has not selected this year’s winner, and dropped no hints about who was on the short list. Americans Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates usually figure in speculation, but Engdahl wouldn’t comment on any names.

Speaking generally about American literature, however, he said U.S. writers are “too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture,” dragging down the quality of their work.

“The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature,” Engdahl said. “That ignorance is restraining.”

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