Acclaimed novelist Philip Roth was honored Tuesday night with the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award and used it as a platform to tell of the censorship horrors that many brilliant writers have faced over the years.
Roth — whose bestselling tomes include “American Pastoral,’’ Portnoy’s Complaint,’’ and “I Married a Communist’’ — noted how, under the Iron Curtain, some of the greatest artists in Eastern Europe had been banned from writing or traveling.
Furthermore, he said, they were forced to work in low-level jobs such as washing windows or selling tobacco.
"Every day brings a new heartache, a new tremor, more helplessness, and yet another reduction of freedom and free thought in a censored society already bound and gagged, the usual rites of degradation,’’ Roth said.
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“The ongoing unmooring of one's personal identity, the suppression of one's personal authority, the elimination of one's security. And anger. Anger. The maniacal raving of a manacled being, frenzies of futile rage, ravaging only oneself.’’
Roth, who has retired from writing at the age of 80, made his remarks before a packed audience at New York’s American Museum of Natural History which included Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Jeffrey Eugenides.
Roth's ties with the Eastern European literary crowd run deep. In the 1970s, he supported such persecuted writers as Milan Kundera and Ivan Klima.
The seriousness of Roth’s remarks ended with a reference to his sometimes raunchy prose and reputation as a ladies man, when he told how Klima had been questioned by police about his friendship with Roth.
“He had only one answer, one, to give them. ‘Don't you read his books?' Ivan asked the police,’’ Roth said.
“As might be expected, they were stymied by the question. But Ivan quickly enlightened them: 'He comes for the girls.'"
Roth won a Pulitzer Prize for “American Pastoral,’’ which featured his popular reoccurring character Nathan Zuckerman. An excerpt from the novel was read at the ceremony.
The annual PEN Literary Awards give more than $150,000 to writers in the fields of fiction, science writing, essays, sports writing, biography, children’s literature, translation, drama, or poetry.
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