Read like Philip Roth: Famed author's books coming to Newark Library

By Jessica Mazzola | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on October 26, 2016

NEWARK — It's a fitting new home for the about 3,500 books that make up famed author Philip Roth's personal collection.

Roth, a Newark native and Pulitzer Prize winner, has gifted his entire private collection to the Newark Public Library, in a move that he said was partly a way to have the books preserved and appreciated by the public, and partially a way to say "thank you" to the city.

"My decision to locate my personal library in Newark and, specifically, in the Newark Public Library, was determined by a longstanding sense of gratitude to the city where I was born," Roth said in a statement about the donation.

"During (my) first year (as a student) at (the then-called) Newark Rutgers, during the many hours each day when I didn't have classes, the stacks and the reference room and the reading rooms of the main library were where I camped out when I wanted a quiet place to be alone to read or to study or to look something up. It was my other Newark home."

The volumes, many of which are annotated with Roth's personal notes and underlinings, have never before been seen by the public. As such, the library is planning an unveiling befitting the impact it hopes the collection will have on library patrons.

It is currently building out a new second floor room, designed by architect Henry Myerberg, that will be the dedicated home of Roth's books. In addition to the texts, Roth is donating his custom-made writing desks, reading chairs, and large refectory table. So, library visitors there to read Roth's books can also experience where he read them, and where he wrote his own novels.

In celebration, the library is also launching the "Philip Roth Lecture," an annual public lecture series meant to honor Roth and his legacy. The inaugural event, happening Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the library, will feature acclaimed British novelist Zadie Smith, who will talk about Roth's influence on her writing.

"The Philip Roth Personal Library is an extraordinary gift that will touch vast numbers of people now and in the future," said Timothy Crist, the library's board president.

"Just as Mr. Roth found inspiration for his writing at the Newark Public Library, we know that his extraordinary gift will inspire others to do the same."  

Roth has often credited his childhood in Newark, and his time at the library, with fostering his passion for writing. The protagonist in his first novel, "Goodbye, Columbus," is a Newark Library employee. And, Roth conducted much of the research for his award-winning "American Trilogy" books in the library's New Jersey Room.

"I'm 83, and I don't have any heirs," Roth told the New York Times, which first reported the story of his donation, of why he chose to give the books away now.

"It's not a huge library, but it's special to me, and I wanted it preserved as it was, if only for historical interest: What was an American writer reading in the second half of the 20th century," he told the Times.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment