Philip Roth at Yaddo

After his most notorious work, Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) was published, American author Philip Roth found himself at the centre of an uproar that culminated not only in censorship and scandal, but also in many readers drawing unflattering parallels between Roth and his infamous character, Alexander Portnoy, who among other things pleasured himself with a piece of liver.  Roth became known, however erroneously, as the author whose main focal point and character was himself. The constant comparisons between Roth and his fiction compelled the author to write about the phenomenon in his Zuckerman novels, including Zuckerman Unbound (1981) and The Prague Orgy (1985), among others, following fictional author Nathan Zuckerman who is often compared to the libidinous Carnovsky from the fictional novel of the same name. For Roth, the mania that followed the publication of Portnoy was so large that he fled New York. As he states in an interview with The Paris Review:

It was too big, on a larger and much crazier scale than I could begin to deal with, so I took off. A few weeks after publication, I boarded a bus at the Port Authority terminal for Saratoga Springs, and holed up at Yaddo, the writers’ colony, for three months. Precisely what Zuckerman should have done after Carnovsky—but he hung around, the fool, and look what happened to him. He would have enjoyed Yaddo more than he enjoyed Alvin Pepler.

Now, fifty year after his first stay at the colony (his first visit being in 1964), Roth is being honoured as the first recipient of a new medal presented by Yaddo, a 400-acre estate and writers’ retreat. The colony, which was founded in 1900 by financier Spencer Trask and his wife Katrina, has housed the likes of  Truman Capote, John Cheever, Patricia Highsmith, Mario Puzo and Henry Roth, among many others, offering artists a supposedly peaceful (if not slightly eerie and Stephen King-esque) environment in which to produce their art without any intrusion from the outside world. Elaina Richardson, the current president of Yaddo, stated: ‘It’s a great pleasure for us to begin a new tradition by presenting Philip Roth with the inaugural Yaddo Artist Medal.’ Roth will be presented with the award on May 14, 2014, at Yaddo’s annual fund-raiser in New York City.



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