Philip Roth, Fearless and Celebrated Author, Dies at 85

Philip Roth, the prize-winning novelist and fearless narrator of sex, death, assimilation and fate, from the comic madness of “Portnoy’s Complaint” to the elegiac lyricism of “American Pastoral,” died Tuesday night at age 85.

Roth’s literary agent, Andrew Wylie, said that the author died in a New York City hospital of congestive heart failure.

Author of more than 25 books, Roth was a fierce satirist and uncompromising realist, confronting readers in a bold, direct style that scorned false sentiment or hopes for heavenly reward. He was an atheist who swore allegiance to earthly imagination, whether devising pornographic functions for raw liver or indulging romantic fantasies about Anne Frank. In “The Plot Against America,” published in 2004, he placed his own family under the anti-Semitic reign of President Charles Lindbergh. In 2010, in “Nemesis,” he subjected his native New Jersey to a polio epidemic.

He was among the greatest writers never to win the Nobel Prize. But he received virtually every other literary honor, including two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle prizes and, in 1998, the Pulitzer for “American Pastoral.” He was in his 20s when he won his first award and awed critics and fellow writers by producing some of his most acclaimed novels in his 60s and 70s, including “The Human Stain” and “Sabbath’s Theater,” a savage narrative of lust and mortality he considered his finest work.

He identified himself as an American writer, not a Jewish one, but for Roth the American experience and the Jewish experience were often the same. While predecessors such as Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud wrote of the Jews’ painful adjustment from immigrant life, Roth’s characters represented the next generation. Their first language was English, and they spoke without accents. They observed no rituals and belonged to no synagogues. The American dream, or nightmare, was to become “a Jew without Jews, without Judaism, without Zionism, without Jewishness.” The reality, more often, was to be regarded as a Jew among gentiles and a gentile among Jews.

In the novel “The Ghost Writer” he quoted one of his heroes, Franz Kafka: “We should only read those books that bite and sting us.” For his critics, his books were to be repelled like a swarm of bees.

Feminists, Jews and one ex-wife attacked him in print, and sometimes in person. Women in his books were at times little more than objects of desire and rage and The Village Voice once put his picture on its cover, condemning him as a misogynist. A panel moderator berated him for his comic portrayals of Jews, asking Roth if he would have written the same books in Nazi Germany. The Jewish scholar Gershom Scholem called “Portnoy’s Complaint” the “book for which all anti-Semites have been praying.” When Roth won the Man Booker International Prize, in 2011, a judge resigned, alleging that the author suffered from terminal solipsism and went “on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book.” In “Sabbath’s Theater,” Roth imagines the inscription for his title character’s headstone: “Sodomist, Abuser of Women, Destroyer of Morals.’’

Ex-wife Claire Bloom wrote a best-selling memoir, “Leaving a Doll’s House,” in which the actress remembered reading the manuscript of his novel “Deception.” With horror, she discovered his characters included a boring middle-aged wife named Claire, married to an adulterous writer named Philip. Bloom also described her ex-husband as cold, manipulative and unstable. (Although, alas, she still loved him). The book was published by Virago Press, whose founder, Carmen Callil, was the same judge who quit years later from the Booker committee.

Roth’s wars also originated from within. He survived a burst appendix in the late 1960s and near-suicidal depression in 1987. After the disappointing reaction to his 1993 novel, “Operation Shylock,” he fell again into severe depression and for years rarely communicated with the media. For all the humor in his work – and, friends would say, in private life – jacket photos usually highlighted the author’s tense, dark-eyed glare. In 2012, he announced that he had stopped writing fiction and would instead dedicate himself to helping biographer Blake Bailey complete his life story, one he openly wished would not come out while he was alive. By 2015, he had retired from public life altogether.

He never promised to be his readers’ friend; writing was its own reward, the narration of “life, in all its shameless impurity.” Until his abrupt retirement, Roth was a dedicated, prolific author who often published a book a year and was generous to writers from other countries.

 Roth began his career in rebellion against the conformity of the 1950s and ended it in defense of the security of the 1940s; he was never warmer than when writing about his childhood, or more sorrowful, and enraged, than when narrating the shock of innocence lost.

Roth was born in 1933 in Newark, New Jersey, a time and place he remembered lovingly in “The Facts,” “American Pastoral” and other works. The scolding, cartoonish parents of his novels were pure fiction. He adored his parents, especially his father, an insurance salesman to whom he paid tribute in the memoir “Patrimony.” Roth would describe his childhood as “intensely secure and protected,” at least at home. He was outgoing and brilliant and, tall and dark-haired, especially attractive to girls. In his teens he presumed he would become a lawyer, a most respectable profession in his family’s world.

But after a year at Newark College of Rutgers University, Roth emulated an early literary hero, James Joyce, and fled his hometown. He transferred to Bucknell College in Pennsylvania and only returned to Newark on paper. By his early 20s, Roth was writing fiction.

After receiving a master’s degree in English from the University of Chicago, he began publishing stories in The Paris Review and elsewhere. Bellow was an early influence, as were Thomas Wolfe, Flaubert, Henry James and Kafka, whose picture Roth hung in his writing room.

Roth insisted writing should express, not sanitize. After two relatively tame novels, “Letting Go” and “When She was Good,” he abandoned his good manners with “Portnoy’s Complaint,” his ode to blasphemy against the “unholy trinity of “father, mother and Jewish son.” Published in 1969, a great year for rebellion, it was an event, a birth, a summation, Roth’s triumph over “the awesome graduate school authority of Henry James,” as if history’s lid had blown open and out erupted a generation of Jewish guilt and desire.

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Richard N. Goodwin, White House Speech Writer, Dead at 86

Richard N. Goodwin, an aide, speechwriter and liberal force for the Kennedys and Lyndon Johnson who helped craft such historic addresses as Robert Kennedy’s “ripples of hope” and LBJ’s speeches on civil rights and “The Great Society,” died Sunday evening. He was 86.

Goodwin, the husband of Pulitzer Prize winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, died at his home in Concord, Massachusetts. According to his wife, he died after a brief bout with cancer.

“It was the adventure of a lifetime to be married for 42 years to this incredible force of nature – the smartest, most interesting, most loving person I have ever known. How lucky I have been to have had him by my side as we built our family and our careers together surrounded by close friends in a community we love,” said Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Richard Goodwin was among the youngest members of John F. Kennedy’s inner circle and among the last survivors. Brilliant and contentious, with thick eyebrows and a mess of wavy-curly hair, the cigar-smoking Goodwin rose from a working class background to the Kennedy White House before he had turned 30. He was a Boston native and Harvard Law graduate who specialized in broad, inspirational rhetoric – top JFK speechwriter Theodore Sorensen was a mentor – that “would move men to action or alliance.”

Thriving during an era when few feared to be called “liberal,” Goodwin also worked on some of Lyndon Johnson’s most memorable domestic policy initiatives, including his celebrated “We Shall Overcome” speech. But he differed with the president about Vietnam, left the administration after 1965 and would later contend – to much debate – that Johnson may have been clinically paranoid. Increasingly impassioned through the latter half of the ’60s, he co-wrote what many regard as then- Sen. Robert Kennedy’s greatest speech, his address in South Africa in 1966. Kennedy bluntly attacked the racist apartheid system, praised protest movements worldwide and said those who speak and act against injustice send “forth a tiny ripple of hope.”

Goodwin’s opposition to the Vietnam conflict led him to write speeches in 1968 for Kennedy and to manage the presidential campaign for anti-war candidate Sen. Eugene McCarthy. But McCarthy faded, Kennedy (”My best and last friend in politics,” Goodwin wrote) was assassinated and Republican Richard Nixon was elected president. Goodwin never worked for another administration, although he and his wife were fixtures in the Democratic Party and he continued to comment on current affairs for Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and other publications. In 2000, he was called upon for one of the least glamorous jobs in speechwriting history: Al Gore’s concession to George W. Bush after a deadlocked race that ended with a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Bush’s favor.

Goodwin was admired for his rare blend of poetry and political savvy, and criticized for being all too aware of his talents. Even one of his supporters, historian and fellow Kennedy insider Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., would say that he “probably lacked tact and finesse.” But Schlesinger also regarded Goodwin as the “archetypal New Frontiersman” of JFK’s brief presidency.

“Goodwin was the supreme generalist,” Schlesinger wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Thousand Days,” published in 1965, “who could turn from Latin America to saving the Nile Monuments, from civil rights to planning a White House dinner for the Nobel Prize winners, from composing a parody of Norman Mailer to drafting a piece of legislation, from lunching with a Supreme Court Justice to dining with Jean Seberg – and at the same time retain an unquenchable spirit of sardonic liberalism and unceasing drive to get things done.”

Richard Naradof Goodwin was born in Boston on Dec. 7, 1931, but spent part of his childhood in suburban Maryland, where he would recall being harassed and beaten because he was Jewish. His enemies only inspired him. He graduated summa cum laude from Tufts University, at the top his class from Harvard Law School, then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, the first of a series of powerful men Goodwin worked under.

His road to Kennedy’s “Camelot” began not with an election, but with the corruption of TV game shows. He was an investigator in the late `50s for the Legislative Oversight Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, which helped reveal that the popular “Twenty One” program was rigged. Goodwin’s recollections were adapted into the 1994 film “Quiz Show,” directed by Robert Redford and featuring Rob Morrow as Goodwin, who was one of the producers. The film received four Academy Award nominations, including for best picture, but was criticized for inflating Goodwin’s role in uncovering the scandal.

His efforts were noticed by Kennedy, then a U.S. senator from Massachusetts and aspiring presidential candidate. Goodwin was hired to write speeches for the 1960 race, advised Kennedy for his landmark television debates with Nixon and held a number of positions in the administration, from assistant special counsel in the White House to an adviser on Latin America. After Kennedy’s assassination, in 1963, Goodwin was urged – implored – to stay on by the new president: “You’re going to be my voice, my alter ego,” Goodwin remembered Lyndon Johnson saying.

​There was constant tension between Johnson, a Texan, and the “Harvards” around Kennedy, but Goodwin initially had strong influence. He was assigned key policy speeches, including the 1964 address at the University of Michigan, when Johnson outlined his domestic vision of a “Great Society.” Johnson’s 1965 civil rights speech to a joint session of Congress, written by Goodwin on less than a day’s notice and in the wake of the bloody marches in Selma, Alabama, ended with an exhortation that drew upon the language of the protest movement and reportedly left the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in tears.

“Their cause must be our cause too,” Johnson said. “Because it is not just Negroes, but all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

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Netflix Says It Has Signed Barack and Michelle Obama to Deal

Barack and Michelle Obama are getting into the television business with Monday’s announcement that they had signed a multiyear deal with Netflix.

The former president and first lady have formed their own production company, Higher Ground Productions, for the material. In announcing a deal that had been rumored since March, Netflix offered no specifics on what shows they would make.

Netflix said the Obamas would make “a diverse mix of content,” potentially including scripted and unscripted series, documentaries or features.

“We hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the wider world,” Barack Obama said in Netflix’s announcement.

The Obamas can be expected to participate in some of the programming onscreen, said a person familiar with the deal, not authorized to talk publicly about it, on condition of anonymity. The programming itself is not expected to be partisan in nature; a president who often derided the way things were covered on cable news won’t be joining in.

The type of people that Obama — like other presidents — brought forward as guests at his State of the Union addresses would likely provide fodder for the kinds of stories they want to tell.

“Barack and I have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire us, to make us think differently about the world around us, and to help us open our minds and hearts to others,” Michelle Obama said.

No content from the deal is expected to be available until at least 2019, said the person familiar with the deal.

The former president appeared in January on David Letterman’s Netflix talk show, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.” Obama is said to be friendly with Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer, and discussions for other programming were already under way.

“We are incredibly proud they have chosen to make Netflix the home for their formidable storytelling abilities,” Sarandos said.

Netflix has 125 million subscribers worldwide. The company has always been reluctant to discuss how many people watch its programming, but it clearly dominates the growing market for streaming services. Roughly 10 percent of television viewing now is through these services, the Nielsen company said.

Forty-nine percent of streaming being viewed now comes through Netflix, and no other service comes close, Nielsen said.

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Through Sand Art, Former Tibetan Monk Spreads Message of Peace

Over the centuries, Tibetan monks have created mandalas, fanciful images of the universe with complex iconography. Losang Samten is one of those monks. The American scholar and artist is best known for creating mandalas in colored sand for the public and sharing messages of healing and peace. VOA’s June Soh caught up with him in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Molly McKitterick narrates.

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Wild Animals in the Halls of the US Capitol

Wild animal sounds were heard recently in the halls of the U.S. Capitol. But these were not the calls of escaped animals. They were the sounds of endangered animals serving as the animal world’s ambassadors to commemorate “Endangered Species Day.” Their presence in the Capitol was intended to encourage legislators to support efforts to protect endangered and rare animals. But as Veronica Balderas Iglesias reports, conservation and animal welfare appears to be a touchy subject on Capitol Hill.

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‘Women on Wheels’ in Pakistan’s Punjab Province Aimed at Expanding Workforce

As part of a wave of women’s empowerment programs, the government of Pakistan’s Punjab province is running a campaign called “Women on Wheels”, a 2-year-old program that trains women to ride motorcycles as a way to raise awareness of gender-based violence and street harassment. VOA’s Mariama Diallo reports on the excitement and independence the campaign has brought to participants.

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Japan’s ‘Shoplifters’ Takes Palme d’Or at Cannes

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda won the Palme d’Or at Cannes on Saturday for Shoplifters, a critically acclaimed family drama with

unguessable plot twists.

The award, to a director who has won prizes at the festival before, defied speculation that the Palme might go to a female director, with three strong contenders in a year when the Hollywood sex scandal was the talk of the town.

Italian actress Asia Argento, who has accused movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, said there were abusers in the audience who had yet to be outed.

Argento said Weinstein raped her during the Cannes festival in 1997 when she was 21. “This festival was his hunting ground,” Argento said in a speech ahead of the prize announcements.

Weinstein has denied allegations of non-consensual sex. A spokesman for Weinstein had no immediate comment. Argento’s London-based agent, Steve Kenis, was not immediately available to provide further details.

“Even tonight, sitting among you, there are those who still have to be held accountable for their conduct against women,” Argento told the black-tie ceremony. “You know who you are, but, most importantly, we know who

you are, and we are not going to allow you to get away with it any longer.”

After the ceremony, Cate Blanchett, who headed the jury of five women and four men, said: “Women and men alike on the jury would love to see more female directorial voices represented,” adding that it had been “bloody hard” to select a winner.

‘Bowled over’

“But in the end I think we were completely bowled over by how intermeshed the performances were with the directorial vision,” she said of Shoplifters.

The runner-up prize, the Grand Prix, went to Spike Lee’s satire BlacKkKlansman, based on the true story of a black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s.

Blanchett said the film’s ending, with footage of the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August and President Donald Trump blaming “both sides” for the deadly violence, “blew us out of the cinema.”

A female director, Nadine Labaki from Lebanon, won the Jury Prize — effectively, the bronze medal — for Capharnaum, a realist drama about childhood neglect in the slums of Beirut.

Fifty years after he helped get the Cannes festival canceled in 1968 in solidarity with worker-student protests, 87-year-old Jean-Luc Godard received a Special Palme d’Or for his collage of sounds and images, The Image Book.

Poland’s Pawel Pawlikowski won Best Director for Cold War, a romance that moves from the peasant farms of Poland to Paris jazz clubs and back from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Girl, a Belgian drama about a transgender teenage girl’s quest to become a ballerina, won the Camera d’Or for the best directorial debut for director Lukas Dhont.

Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director who is prevented from leaving Iran and is in theory banned from making films, won Best Screenplay for 3 Faces along with co-writer Nader Saeivar.

The award was given jointly to another film, Happy as Lazzaro, written and directed by Italian Alice Rohrwacher.

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Harry, Meghan Become Husband, Wife in British Royal Ceremony

The big day finally arrived for Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, as the couple married Saturday in the town of Windsor, outside London.

Prince Charles, Prince Harry’s father, walked the bride down the aisle.

The American former actress confirmed earlier that her father would not attend the ceremony, owing to ill health, after days of speculation over whether he would make the journey across the Atlantic.

Throngs of people descended on the historic town as well-wishers tried to catch a glimpse of the royal couple. Thousands of police officers mounted one of the biggest security operations in recent years, paid for by the public — a bill resented by some opposed to the monarchy.

Supporters argued the wedding was likely to attract big spending by visitors and those watching in bars and big screens across the country.

The ceremony began at midday in the stunning 14th century Saint George’s Chapel on the grounds of Windsor Castle, where Prince Harry was baptized in 1984.

In Photos: The Royal Wedding

Some 600 guests were invited, mainly those who have a direct relationship with the couple.

In addition, more than 2,500 members of the public were invited onto the castle grounds — the prime spot to watch the guests come and go.

“To me, that was surprising, and it was very touching. Because for as much as they don’t like the media intrusion, the royals, they’ve invited media in, they’ve invited the public in, and they’re wanting to share their special day,” said Thomas Mace-Archer-Mills of the British Monarchist Society and Foundation.

Four members of the Mumbai city-based charity the Myna Mahila Foundation were invited. The non-governmental organization provides sanitary products in the slums of the Indian capital and was visited by Meghan Markle last year. It’s one of seven charities that the couple have asked guests to make donations to instead of providing wedding gifts. The charity’s founder, Myne Mahila, says the invitation came as a huge shock.

“We are representing not just ‘Myna,’ but also the women across the urban slums in the city and India as well. I think there is a lot on the plate and a lot of pressure,” she said.

More than 100,000 people were expected to line the streets of Windsor. Many arrived early to bag the best spots for a look. Donna Werner is a self-confessed royal “superfan” who flew over from her home in the U.S. state of Connecticut and camped out for four nights on a Windsor sidewalk.

In Photos: Crowds, Stars Gather for Royal Wedding

“Every little girl has read fairy tales from her childhood on by her mother and she always dreams of becoming a princess and living in a castle. And I mean, this is it. This is a real-life fairy tale,” she said.

In a break with U.S. tradition, Meghan Markle did not have a maid of honor. All of the six bridesmaids and four page boys were children of friends of the couple. Harry’s nephew, Prince George, was a pageboy, and niece, Princess Charlotte, a bridesmaid.  

In the kitchens of Windsor Castle, 30 chefs prepared a banquet for the reception guests.

“The couple … tasted everything, they’ve been involved in every detail,” says royal head chef Mark Flanagan.

That could mean some stateside surprises among the British fare.

“Are we going to see hot dogs and these sorts of American things? I’m sure there will be a nod to the American culture where food is concerned,” said Mace-Archer-Mills.

As well as the home crowds, millions were expected to watch on television around the globe, with the promise of British pomp mixed with plenty of Hollywood glamour.

Fern Robinson contributed to this report.

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