This Day In Writing History
On March 27th, 1923, the famous poet Louis Simpson was born. He was born in Jamaica to a Scottish father and a Russian mother. He emigrated to the United States at the age of 17, settling in New York City.
Louis soon enrolled at Columbia University, where he majored in English. One of his professors was the famous writer and critic, Mark Van Doren. In 1943, Simpson cut his education short to enlist in the U.S. Army, as World War II was raging.
He became a member of the Army's 101st Airborne Division. He served as a courier for the company captain, which required him to deliver orders from company headquarters to officers at the front. Thus, he saw action in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.
While stationed in France, Simpson's company fought a fierce and bloody battle against Nazi forces which had ambushed them on the west bank of the Carentan France Marina. The battle would inspire Simpson to write his classic poem Carentan O Carentan, which included these memorable verses:
There is a whistling in the leaves,
And it is not the wind,
The twigs are falling from the knives
That cut men to the ground.
Tell me, Master-Sergeant,
The way to turn and shoot.
But the Sergeant's silent
That taught me how to do it.
O Captain, show us quickly
Our place upon the map.
But the Captain's sickly
And taking a long nap.
Lieutenant, what's my duty,
My place in the platoon?
He too's a sleeping beauty,
Charmed by that strange tune.
Carentan O Carentan
Before we met with you
We never yet had lost a man
Or known what death could do.
After the war ended, Louis Simpson enrolled at the University of Paris and continued his studies. He then returned to New York City, where he worked as a book editor while doing his graduate studies. He earned a PhD from Columbia University.
He would become a respected professor of English and poetry, teaching at not only Columbia University, but also at the University of California - Berkeley and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Simpson's first poetry collection, The Arrivistes, was published in 1949. In the beginning, he was strongly devoted to traditional verse and was acclaimed for this work. However, as the years passed, he moved away from traditional styles and embraced free verse.
Whether he worked in formal or free verse, as a poet, Simpson was always known for both his strong sense of narrative and for his lyricism, which was never compromised by his narrative voice.
Louis Simpson's 1963 poetry collection, At the End of the Open Road, won him a Pulitzer Prize. Edward Hirsch, critic for the Washington Post, described it this way:
"A sustained meditation on the American character... the moral genius of this book is that it traverses the open road of American mythology and brings us back to ourselves; it sees us not as we wish to be but as we are."
In this poem from At the End of the Open Road, titled In California, Simpson tips his hat to one of his favorite authors of free verse, the great Walt Whitman:
Here I am, troubling the dream coast
With my New York face,
Bearing among the realtors
And tennis-players my dark preoccupation.
There once was an epical clatter --
Voices and banjos, Tennessee, Ohio,
Rising like incense in the sight of heaven.
Today, there is an angel in the gate.
Lie back, Walt Whitman,
There, on the fabulous raft with the King and the
For the white row of the Marina
Faces the Rock. Turn round the wagons here.
Lie back! We cannot bear
The stars any more, those infinite spaces.
Let the realtors divide the mountain,
For they have already subdivided the valley.
Rectangular city blocks astonished
Herodotus in Babylon,
Cortez in Tenochtitlan,
And here's the same old city-planner, death.
We cannot turn or stay.
For though we sleep, and let the reins fall slack,
The great cloud-wagons move
Outward still, dreaming of a Pacific.
In addition to his poetry collections, Louis Simpson has also written nearly a dozen works of non-fiction including studies of famous poets from T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams to Allen Ginsberg and Sylvia Plath. He lived on Long Island until his death in September of 2012 at the age of 89.
Quote Of The Day
“The aim of military training is not just to prepare men for battle, but to make them long for it.” - Louis Simpson
Today's video features Louis Simpson reading one of his poems. Enjoy!
Friday, March 27, 2015
Thursday, March 26, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On March 26th, 1920, This Side of Paradise, the classic first novel by the legendary American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, was published. In the summer of 1919, Fitzgerald, then 22 years old, had broken up with his girlfriend, Zelda Sayre.
Depressed, he spent most of the summer drunk before returning to his family's home in St. Paul, Minnesota. There, he began writing again, resuming work on his first novel, which had been rejected by publishers.
The original draft of the novel was titled The Romantic Egotist. Fitzgerald's rewrite was practically a brand new novel; only 80 pages of his original manuscript made it into the 300+ page final draft, which was retitled This Side of Paradise.
He hoped that if he became a successful novelist, he could win Zelda back. She had dumped him because she thought he would never be able to provide her with a comfortable living.
On September 4th, 1919, Fitzgerald had a friend deliver his completed manuscript to Maxwell Perkins, an editor at Scribner's in New York. The novel was nearly rejected by the other editors, but on Perkins' insistence, they accepted it.
He believed that Fitzgerald was a major talent, and that This Side of Paradise would be a bestseller. The author pleaded for an immediate release, but was told that his novel wouldn't be published until the spring.
So, on March 26th, 1920, This Side of Paradise was published by Scribner's in a first edition press run of 3,000 copies. It sold out in three days, confirming Fitzgerald's prediction that he would become an overnight sensation.
Between 1920 and 1921, nearly 50,000 copies of the novel were printed. The author didn't earn a huge income from his first novel, but it sold well, and he made just over $6,200 in 1920 - a very impressive sum for the time. It also helped him earn higher rates of payment for his short stories, which made up the bulk of his income.
Fitzgerald's novel was a dark and lyrical tale of love warped by greed and status-seeking. It told the story of Amory Blaine, a poor but handsome young Midwesterner, following him from his early years and his education at Princeton through his service in World War I and his return home.
Blaine learns a hard lesson when his attempts at romance with wealthy debutantes fail miserably and leave him heartbroken. The novel ends with his famous summation, "I know myself, but that is all."
The style Fitzgerald employed for his first novel was a mishmash of straightforward narrative and narrative drama intertwined with letters and poems by the protagonist, Amory Blaine.
This is not a surprise, considering that Fitzgerald cobbled together different writings to form the novel. And yet, the end product turned out to be brilliant and gave readers and critics a preview of the genius that would produce The Great Gatsby five years later.
The success of his first novel wouldn't be the only prediction of Fitzgerald's to come true. After the book was accepted by Scribner's, he returned to Zelda and they became a couple again.
A week after the novel was published, they were married. Unfortunately, their alcoholism and Zelda's worsening mental illness would doom their relationship. His health ravaged by his heavy drinking, F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940 at the age of 44 after suffering his third and final heart attack.
Quote Of The Day
"All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath." - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Today's video features a complete reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel,This Side of Paradise. Enjoy!
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On March 25th, 1925, the famous American writer Flannery O'Connor was born. She was born Mary Flannery O' Connor in Savannah, Georgia. She described herself as "a pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I'll-bite-you complex."
When she was six years old, she taught her pet chicken to walk backwards. The story made the local news, then was picked up Pathe News for one of its national newsreels. O'Connor and her chicken appeared in a newsreel segment titled Little Mary O'Connor and Her Trained Chicken.
When she was fifteen, her father died of lupus, a hereditary disease that ran in the O'Connor family. She was devastated by the loss. She graduated from the Peabody Laboratory School in 1942 and went on to earn a Social Sciences degree at the Georgia State College for Women, now known as bookman old style College State University.
A year later, in 1946, she was accepted into the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, where she had enrolled to study journalism. While in the Writers' Workshop, she became friends with some important writers and critics who taught there, including Robert Penn Warren, Andrew Lytle, and Paul Engle.
Writer and essayist Andrew Lytle, also the longtime editor of the Sewanee Review, was an early admirer of Flannery O'Connor's work. He published her short stories and others' essays on her work.
Poet and novelist Paul Engle, the director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, was the first to read and critique the early drafts of what would become O'Connor's first novel, Wise Blood (1952).
Flannery O'Connor's writings were heavily influenced by her experiences growing up a liberal Catholic in the fiercely conservative, fundamentalist Protestant "Bible Belt" of the American South. Her style was a unique form of Southern Gothic.
Her backward (often grotesquely backward) Southern characters would undergo a transformation bringing them close to her way of thinking. She didn't shy away from controversial subjects such as racism, poverty, and the dangers of fundamentalism.
O'Connor was best known as a master of the short story, foreshadowing and irony her trademarks. She published two short story collections, A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge, published posthumously in 1965 - a year after her death.
The title story of A Good Man is Hard to Find was her most famous and brilliant short story. In it, an unnamed old woman accompanies her son Bailey and his family on their vacation to Florida. She really wants to go to Georgia to see her childhood home, and pesters Bailey until she gets her way.
The old woman's directions lead the family down an abandoned dirt road, and she realizes that her childhood home is in Tennessee, not Georgia. Frustrated, she spooks her cat, which attacks Bailey and causes him to have an accident. No one is seriously injured.
Not wanting to face Bailey's wrath, the old woman fakes an injury to gain sympathy. The family waits for a passerby to help them. A car pulls up and some men get out. One of them is a shirtless, bespectacled man with a gun.
He seems to be a good Samaritan, but the old woman realizes that he's actually an escaped murderer called The Misfit. When she identifies him as The Misfit, he tells his accomplices to murder the family. The old woman begs for her own life and tries to preach to The Misfit about Jesus.
This makes him angrier, and he tells her that he doesn't want to waste his life serving someone who may not exist, nor does he want to displease a God who may exist. Frustrated by this paradox, his philosophy is "There's no pleasure but meanness."
When the old woman reaches out to The Misfit and calls him her child, he recoils and shoots her three times. After his accomplices murder the rest of the family, The Misfit cleans his glasses and thinks about the old woman.
He sums her up by saying that "she would have been a good woman... if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." When one of his accomplices mentions how much fun they had killing the family, The Misfit angrily chides him, saying "It's no real pleasure."
Another one of Flannery O'Connor's great stories was The Life You Save May Be Your Own. It told the haunting tale of an old woman so desperate to marry off her mute daughter Lucynell that she ends up paying a poor drifter to marry the girl.
Although mute and simple, Lucynell is so beautiful that when a young man sees her asleep at a diner counter, he comments that "She looks like an angel of God." Her husband abandons her, then later, while driving as a storm is breaking, he notices a road sign that says "Drive carefully - the life you save may be your own."
O'Connor's novels took her distinctive style even further. They both painted dark portraits of religion and faith. Wise Blood (1952) was a dark comedy about an American soldier, Hazel Motes, who returns home from Korea.
After carousing with a prostitute, Motes embarks on a new career path - after meeting some religious hucksters, he decides to become one himself. Motes' war experiences convinced him that the only way to escape sin is to have no soul.
So, he founds the "Holy Church of Christ Without Christ," casting himself in the role of prophet. He begins to believe in his own false prophecy, which leads to his tragic and surreal downfall.
The Violent Bear It Away (1960) told an even darker story of the perversion of religion and faith. The novel opens with the death of Mason Tarwater, an insanely religious old man. Tarwater had been grooming his great-nephew Francis (whom he kidnapped shortly after he was born) to be a prophet.
After Tarwater dies, Francis goes to stay with his anti-religious uncle Rayber. Despite Rayber's intentions and Francis' own determination to resist his calling, the boy can't escape the fact that he's losing his mind.
Francis ultimately accepts his "destiny" to become a prophet and goes completely mad - both of which occur after he is drugged and raped by a man who had given him a ride.
In 1951, Flannery O'Connor was diagnosed with lupus - the disease that killed her father. The doctors gave her five years to live. She lived for fourteen years, writing two novels and over two dozen short stories.
She also wrote over a hundred book reviews which appeared in two local Catholic newspapers. She died of lupus complications in 1964 at the age of 39. More than forty years after her death, she remains one of America's most celebrated writers.
Quote Of The Day
"All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless, and brutal." - Flannery O'Connor
Today's video features a rare recording of Flannery O'Connor reading her classic short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find. Enjoy!
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On March 24th, 1955, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the classic play by legendary American playwright Tennessee Williams, opened on Broadway. The play focused on a Southern family in crisis - the affluent Pollitt family.
The Pollitts hide their dark secrets under a cloak of respectability. The extended family has gathered to celebrate the 65th birthday of patriarch Big Daddy Pollitt, the richest cotton grower in the Mississippi Delta.
The family knows that Big Daddy is dying of cancer and won't live to see another birthday, but have conspired to keep him (and his wife, Big Mama) from finding out about his terminal condition.
All of Big Daddy's kin ingratiate themselves to him, hoping to receive the lion's share of his huge estate when he dies - all of them except indifferent son Brick Pollitt, who, along with his wife Maggie, (the Cat) are having serious marital problems.
Brick is an aging, injured, detached alcoholic ex-football hero who neglects his wife and spends most of his time drinking and railing against mendacity. A desperate Maggie reveals to Brick that she had an affair with his best friend Skipper, even though she knew that Skipper was secretly gay.
Suspecting that her husband might also be gay, Maggie seduced Skipper to prevent anything from happening between the two men. The affair drove Skipper to drink and suicide.
A disgusted Big Daddy has similar suspicions. He accuses Brick of drinking to escape his guilt over not saving Skipper from suicide - because he and Skipper were more than just best friends.
Furious, Brick reveals that Big Daddy is dying. Maggie, knowing that the old man never made out a will, panics and fears that he'll disinherit Brick. She escaped a miserable childhood of grinding poverty and despair when she married into the rich Pollitt family.
The prospect of being poor again terrifies here, so she falsely claims to be pregnant to win her father in-law's sympathy. Later, Maggie throws away Brick's liquor, telling him:
We can make that lie come true. And then I'll bring you liquor, and we'll get drunk together, here, tonight, in this place that death has come into!
The original Broadway production was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Ben Gazzara as Brick, Barbara Bel Geddes as Maggie, and legendary folksinger-actor Burl Ives as Big Daddy.
Gazzara's understudy was a young actor named Cliff Robertson, who would go on to become a star of stage, screen, and television. But when Gazzara left the play, Jack Lord replaced him.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won Tennessee Williams a Pulitzer Prize - his second. He won his first Pulitzer for his famous play, A Streetcar Named Desire. In 1958, three years after Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opened on Broadway, a feature film adaptation was released.
Directed by Richard Brooks, it starred Paul Newman as Brick and Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie, with Burl Ives and Madeleine Sherwood reprising their Broadway roles as Big Daddy and Big Mama.
Unfortunately, due to the stifling Hollywood Production Code in effect at the time, the screenplay toned down Tennessee Williams' play considerably, removing all the sexual elements of the story.
Richard Brooks was not the studio's first choice to direct the film; it had been offered to George Cukor, but he turned it down in disgust after reading the bowdlerized screenplay.
As for Tennessee Williams' reaction, he hated the movie so much that he told people on line for the premiere not to see it, saying "This movie will set the industry back 50 years. Go home!"
Quote Of The Day
"Why did I write? Because I found life unsatisfactory." - Tennessee Williams
Today's video features a complete live performance of Tennessee Williams' classic play,Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Enjoy!
Monday, March 23, 2015
Deb O’Neille Schubbe
My story, “Keeping It Lively,” will be/or is supposed to be published by Romance Flash in May. I'll get paid upon publication. This story was critiqued by members of LoveStory, the romance group of IWW. Thanks, everyone!
I have a review of Joe Canzano's, “Magno Girl,” and an interview with the author on Underground Book Reviews.
My latest article, on Evelyn Kallansee (singer with Dutch band Tristan) and the unexpected places one finds one's identity, was published in today's edition of the Amigoe Express. The article is available on the newspaper's website, too.
Jeannette de Beauvoir
Yesterday I was the guest on two unusual blogs:
1) Dru's blog asks authors to provide readers with a day in the life of their character, something new and not lifted from a book. That was fun.
2) The honor of being invited to a discussion day at Jungle Red Writers is pretty terrific all by itself, but when you read the comments you see what an extraordinary day it can turn out to be:
My first internet TV interview discussing my novel, Sunrise From an Icy Heart, is on ThatChannel.
My flash, “Unfinished Business,” is up at Ken*Again. This one began in Practice a while back, so big thanks go to the Practice critters.
Friday, March 20, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On March 20th, 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin, the classic novel by the legendary American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, was published. Like most novels of the time, it first appeared in a serialized version. It was published by The National Era, an abolitionist magazine.
The author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and her husband, Calvin Stowe, were both ferocious abolitionists and dedicated their home to the Underground Railroad - the famous secret network of safe houses for fugitive slaves traveling en route to free states.
In 1850, Congress, bowing to pressure from the South, tried to tighten the screws on the Underground Railroad by passing the Fugitive Slave Act, which made it illegal for people - even those living in free states - to assist fugitive slaves.
The law also compelled local law enforcement to arrest fugitive slaves and provide assistance to the vicious bounty hunters privately hired to track runaway slaves.
The free states reacted with outrage to the Fugitive Slave Act, which resulted in gross abuses. Many openly defied it. Several free states passed laws granting personal liberties, including the right to a fair trial, to fugitive slaves.
Wisconsin's state Supreme Court declared the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional. The law failed to disrupt the Underground Railroad; by the time it was passed, the network had become far more efficient. Afterward, it grew as the unjust law inspired scores of moderate abolitionists to become passionate activists.
Uncle Tom's Cabin was written as a response to the Fugitive Slave Act - to educate people about the horrors of slavery. The novel told the unforgettable story of a kind and noble slave whose faith and spirit cannot be broken by the evils of slavery.
The novel opens on a Kentucky farm owned by Arthur and Emily Shelby, who like to think that they're kind to their slaves. However, when he needs money, Arthur has no problem selling two of his slaves without regard to where they might end up.
The slaves are Uncle Tom, a wise and compassionate middle-aged man, and Harry, the son of Emily's maid, Eliza. The Shelbys' son George, who looked upon Uncle Tom as a friend and mentor, hates to see him go.
Uncle Tom and Harry are sold to a slave trader and shipped by riverboat down the Mississippi. While on the boat, Uncle Tom strikes up a friendship with Eva, a little white girl. When she falls into the river, he saves her life.
Her grateful father, Augustine St. Clare, buys Uncle Tom from the slave trader and takes him to his home in New Orleans. There, the friendship between Uncle Tom and Eva deepens. Sadly, Eva becomes severely ill and dies - but not before sharing her vision of heaven.
Moved by how much Uncle Tom meant to Eva, her father vows to help him become a free man. His racist cousin Ophelia is moved to reject her prejudice against blacks. Unfortunately, Augustine St. Clare is killed at a tavern, and his wife reneges on his promise to help Uncle Tom.
She sells him at auction to Simon Legree, who owns a plantation in Louisiana. Legree is an evil, perverse, sadistic racist who tortures his male slaves and sexually abuses the women. When Uncle Tom refuses to follow Legree's order to whip another slave, Legree beats him savagely.
The beating fails to break Uncle Tom's spirit or his faith in God. The sight of Uncle Tom reading his bible and comforting other slaves makes Legree's blood boil. He determines to break Uncle Tom and nearly succeeds, as the daily horrors of life on the plantation erode the slave's faith and hope.
Just when it seems that Uncle Tom will succumb to hopelessness, he has two visions - one of little Eva and one of Jesus himself. Moved by these visions, Uncle Tom vows to remain a faithful Christian until the day he dies.
He encourages two fellow slaves, Cassy and Emmeline, to run away. Later, when Simon Legree demands that Uncle Tom reveal their whereabouts, he refuses. A furious Legree orders his overseers to beat Uncle Tom to death.
As he lay dying, Uncle Tom forgives the overseers, which inspires them to repent. George Shelby arrives with money to buy Uncle Tom's freedom. Sadly, he is too late. Uncle Tom dies before he can become a free man.
George returns to his parents' farm in Kentucky and frees their slaves, telling them to always remember Uncle Tom's sacrifice and unshakable faith. That's actually just a bare outline of this classic epic novel.
The publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin caused a national uproar. In the North, it was regarded as the bible of abolitionism and inspired many closet abolitionists to come out and join in the fight against slavery.
In the South, the book was regarded as an outrage. It was called utterly false and slanderous - a criminal defamation of the South. Many Southern writers who supported slavery wrote literature dedicated to debunking Harriet Beecher Stowe's expose of the horrors of slavery.
Their writings, called "Anti-Tom" literature, portrayed white Southerners as benevolent supervisors of blacks, who were depicted as a helpless, child-like people unable to survive without the direct supervision of their white masters.
To defend herself against the South's accusations of slander and defamation, Stowe wrote and published A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853), a non-fiction book documenting the horrors of slavery that she both witnessed herself and researched, which inspired her to write Uncle Tom's Cabin.
The book included surprisingly graphic descriptions of the sexual abuse of female slaves, who, in addition to being molested or raped by their white masters and overseers, were also prostituted and forced to "mate" with male slaves to produce offspring that would fetch a good price on the auction block.
When Uncle Tom's Cabin first appeared in book form in 1852, it was published in an initial press run of 5,000 copies. That year, it sold 300,000 copies. Its London edition sold 200,000 copies throughout the United Kingdom. It became a hit throughout Europe as well.
Ironically, by the time the Civil War broke out in 1861, the book was out of print in the United States, as Stowe's original publisher had gone out of business. She found another publisher, and when the book was republished in 1862, the demand for copies soared.
That same year, Harriet Beecher Stowe was invited to Washington D.C. to meet with President Abraham Lincoln, who supposedly said to her, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."
The novel would be adapted many times for the stage, screen, radio, and television. In the 20th century, Uncle Tom's Cabin courted a new controversy that continues to this day. African-American activists have accused the abolitionist novel of being racist itself, with its racial stereotypes and epithets.
This, like the accusations of racism leveled against Mark Twain's classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) comes from a failure to place the novel in its proper historical perspective and consider its overall message.
Quote Of The Day
"I did not write it. God wrote it. I merely did his dictation." - Harriet Beecher Stowe on her classic novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Today's video features a complete reading of Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Enjoy!
Thursday, March 19, 2015
This Day In Writing History
On March 19th, 1933, the famous American writer Philip Roth was born in Newark, New Jersey. His parents were of Ukrainian-Jewish descent. Roth graduated from Newark's Weequahic High School in 1950. He attended Bucknell University and earned a degree in English.
For his graduate studies, he enrolled at the University of Chicago, where he earned a Master's degree in English and worked briefly as an instructor in the university's creative writing program.
Roth continued his teaching career, teaching creative writing at the University of Iowa and Princeton University. Later, he would teach comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania until he retired from teaching in 1991.
While at the University of Chicago, Roth met legendary novelist Saul Bellow and Margaret Martinson, who would become his first wife. Though they separated in 1963 and she was killed in a car accident five years later, she would have a huge impact on his writings and be the inspiration for female characters in several of his novels.
Philip Roth began his writing career by publishing short stories and reviews in various magazines. He reviewed movies for The New Republic. In 1959, his first book was published, and it established him as a major talent.
Goodbye, Columbus contained the title novella and five short stories, all of which were steeped deep in Judaism - specifically Jewish American culture and customs.
The title novella told the story of Neil Klugman, an intelligent college graduate who has remained a poor, working class Jew with a low-paying job. He works at a library and lives with his aunt and uncle.
Neil falls in love with Brenda Patimkin, a student at Radcliffe who comes from a wealthy Jewish family. What at first seems to be a simple summer romance evolves into a complex story of existential angst, as class differences begin to derail Neil and Brenda's relationship.
Goodbye, Columbus won Roth the National Book Award. It would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1969, starring Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw as Neil and Brenda. The book may have been celebrated by critics and most readers, but some Jewish groups objected to Roth's less than flattering portrayal of some Jewish characters.
In the short story Defender of the Faith, a Jewish American Army sergeant resists when three lazy draftees try to manipulate him into granting them special favors because they are fellow Jews.
In 1962, Philip Roth and the acclaimed black novelist Ralph Ellison appeared on a panel to discuss minority representation in literature. The questions directed at Roth soon turned into denunciations, and he was accused of being a self-loathing Jew.
The label dogged him for most of his career, but Roth would strike back at his Jewish critics with his classic 1969 novel, Portnoy's Complaint, a scathing, raunchy black comedy. It's an experimental novel that takes the form of one long monologue.
The neurotic, middle-aged Alexander Portnoy pours his heart out to his psychoanalyst, Dr. Spielvogel in a monologue loaded with neuroses, complexes, and of course, sexual hang-ups. He rages at his inability to enjoy sex.
Portnoy is a self-loathing Jew who rages at the injustice of having to grow up Jewish in a gentile dominated country. He rages at his overbearing mother, which burdens him with the heavy chains of guilt. It's sex that frustrates him most of all.
As a teenager, Portnoy masturbated excessively, not out of lust, but as a form of narcissism. Both attracted to and repelled by gentile women, he uses and abuses them and gives them demeaning nicknames such as "the Pumpkin" and "the Monkey."
Portnoy's absurdly funny sexual exploits are described graphically - so graphically that the novel proved to be quite a shocker for readers in 1969. The book was banned in Australia. When publisher Penguin Books defied the ban and secretly printed copies of the book, the authorities tried to prosecute them and failed.
Philip Roth has written many more great novels. He is most famous for his series of Zuckerman novels, which are narrated by Roth's alter ego, Jewish writer Nathan Zuckerman. The first Zuckerman book was The Ghost Writer, published in 1979.
His 1997 Zuckerman novel, American Pastoral, won him the Pulitzer Prize. In it, Zuckerman attends his 45th high school reunion and runs into his old friend, Jerry Levov, who tells him the tragic life story of his older brother, Seymour "Swede" Levov, who recently died.
Most of the story deals with the social upheavals of the late 1960s and early 70s, as Swede's teenage daughter Merry protests the horrors of the Vietnam War by becoming a domestic terrorist and bombing a post office. Years later, she remains in hiding.
Other Roth novels of note include The Human Stain (2000), where Nathan Zuckerman tells the story of his new neighbor, Coleman Silk, a 71-year-old college professor who falls victim to an unjust accusation.
Silk is accused of racism by two black students, which leads to his resignation. It is later revealed that Silk is actually a light-skinned black man who, for most of his life, has been passing himself off as a white Jew to escape racist persecution.
The Plot Against America (2004) is a fascinating piece of "what if" historical fiction. In it, national aviation hero Charles Lindbergh (who in real life was an anti-Semite and Hitler supporter) defeats Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 election and becomes President of the United States.
As Lindbergh establishes a cordial relationship with Hitler and keeps the U.S. out of the war, American Jews - including Roth's family - worry about what will become of them.
One of Lindbergh's top cronies is car magnate Henry Ford, who in real life was a virulent anti-Semite and the author of a non-fiction book called The International Jew - the World's Foremost Problem.
In addition to his novels and short stories, Roth has written non-fiction works, including an autobiography. His 31st novel, Nemesis, was released in October of 2010. Set in 1944, it told the story of a Jewish community in Newark, New Jersey struggling to cope with a polio epidemic.
Quote Of The Day
"Literature isn't a moral beauty contest. Its power arises from the authority and audacity with which the impersonation is pulled off; the belief it inspires is what counts." - Philip Roth
Today's video features a documentary on Philip Roth. Enjoy!