Philip Roth (b. 1933)
From Why Write? Collected Nonfiction 1960–2013
Twenty-five years ago—the year after the publication of his best-selling memoir Patrimony—Philip Roth became the first novelist to receive the New Jersey Historical Society award, given annually to “an individual or individuals who have made significant contributions to New Jersey history.” At the ceremony Roth accepted the award on behalf of his father, who had died just three years earlier: “As a chronicler of Newark, I have only stood on his shoulders.”
For our Story of the Week selection, we present that speech, in which Roth honors the memory of his father, Herman—the middle child of seven born to Jewish immigrants from Polish Galicia—and reflects on “the manifold processes of Americanization.” A century ago, Roth reminds us, when “there were two and a half times as many new immigrants as there were native Newarkers, 70 percent of Newark’s schoolchildren—and two-thirds of all Newark schoolchildren were then the offspring of immigrants—didn’t make it past the fifth grade.” He briefly summarizes his father’s life story, and his speech offers compelling reasons to read (or revisit) the heartfelt memories of Patrimony itself.