Flashback to 2011: The NBCC Celebrating Philip Roth

By Jane Ciabattari

Coming up tonight (September 28) at Book Culture in New York: A panel discussing the art and influence of Philip Roth, moderated by Harpers Magazine editor and former NBCC board member James Marcus, and including Rick Moody, NBCC finalists Vivian Gornick and  Claudia Roth Pierpont and Daniel Smith.

Which reminds me of a National Book Critics Circle celebration of Philip Roth, in 2011, attended by Zadie Smith and Nathan Englander (with Roth, above), among others. Roth is the NBCC's  most honored author, surviving the grueling winnowing process by 24 critics to become an award finalist seven times and being honored with the NBCC award for fiction (for The Counterlife) and also for autobiography (for Patrimony). Introducing Roth, I quoted from Saul Bellow, who, in nominating Roth for the Nobel Prize, wrote to the Swedish Academy from Brookline. His letter was brief:”I wish to nominate the American novelist Philip Roth for the Nobel Prize.  His books have been so widely examined and praised that it would be superfluous for me to describe, or praise, his gifts.”

The Roth celebration included a panel with Nathan Englander, Claudia Roth Pierpont, and Scott Raab, and Roth reading that night from his NBCC-award winning autobiography, Patrimony. (He timed it to exactly 50 minutes.) There was a festive party after, cohosted by the Center for Fiction's Noreen Tomassi.  Roth also shared with us via Critical Mass his  acceptance speech when he received the NBCC fiction award for The Counterlife in 1988. (Roth was unable to attend the ceremony on April 1, 1988 to accept the award. He sent a tape recording of his speech, which was played at the ceremony. It has been an inspiration to writers ever since.) Also of note on Critical Mass: Nathan Englander's essay on how reading Portnoy's Complaint changed his life. And Balakian award winning critic Wyatt Mason's evaluation of The Ghostwriter.