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Philip Roth Gets The Memorial He Wanted At The New York Public Library

On September 25, 2018, Philip Roth, a titan of American letters received a memorial service at the New York Public Library at Bryant Park.

The Associated Press reports that hundreds gathered to celebrate the memory of the late author, who passed away in May at the age of 85. Among the attendees were writers Salman Rushdie, Robert Caro and Don DeLillo and actress Mia Farrow.

It’s safe to say Roth approved the guest list; he left explicit instructions for the event before his passing.

“Many years ago, I received in the mail a letter in which he outlined the instructions for his memorial service,” Joel Conarroe, an old friend of Roth’s, told the attendees. Roth specified the venue (the library’s Celeste Bartos Forum) as well as the music, the French composer Gabriel Faure’s “Elegie in C Minor, op. 24,” which closed the ceremony.

The Memorial wasn’t the first event since his passing that he had a hand in planning. As the JTA reported in May, Roth insisted his funeral not adhere to Jewish customs.

Roth also handpicked the speakers, though two, the authors William Styron and Saul Bellow, had died. The speakers, who included Conarroe, the New Yorker writer Claudia Roth Pierpont and authors Edna O’Brien and Norman Manea remembered Roth fondly, and as someone who had a sense of humor about his own end of life.

The author Judith Thurman remembered Roth scouting for what he called “a tomb with a view” during a drive around Connecticut, where he had lived since 1973.

Roth never had children, but AP reports that the speakers talked of his friendliness with their own kids and Dartmouth professor Bernard Avishai, author of a book on “Portnoy’s Complaint” mentioned Roth’s delight at adopting a pair of kittens.

According to his friends, the author, who retired in 2010 after the publication of his last book “Nemesis,” referred to death as “the enemy” toward the end of his life. But in his planning for death (Roth, an atheist, feared no afterlife) we can see Roth prepared to meet the enemy.

Roth’s instructions in the letter, Conarroe said, called for laughter and tears in equal measure. Last night at the Library, Roth appears to have gotten his wish.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected].


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