“Newark has been to Philip Roth’s writing what whaling was to Melville,” said Rosemary Konner Steinbaum ’74 in an article in the Huffington Post about a photographic exhibit on the acclaimed American author, one of a number of events staged in his hometown to honor his 80th birthday.
The city is a nexus for Roth and Steinbaum, guest curator, with librarian James Lewis, of Philip Roth: An Exhibit of Photos from a Lifetime, showing at Newark Public Library through Aug. 31.
Born at Beth Israel Hospital in the then-predominantly Jewish Weequahic section, Roth frequented the neighborhood’s library, which is featured prominently in Goodbye, Columbus, his first book.
Newark has been a locus of philanthropic and social life for Steinbaum and her husband, Robert Steinbaum, publisher of the Newark-based New Jersey Law Journal for 25 years. They lived in Newark when they were first married.
Steinbaum met Roth in the early 1990s when he received an award from the library.
“We’ve had dinner several times,” she says. “One hears that he is reclusive or hard to get to know or not nice, but he has been entirely friendly, welcoming, and generous of his time.”
The exhibit features Roth’s personal photographs, most displayed for the first time. Steinbaum met with him for an afternoon in his New York City apartment viewing the pictures and taking notes of his anecdotes. She drafted captions, which Roth rewrote in his own voice.
“The captions themselves have become little pieces of literature,” says Steinbaum, who also selected passages from Roth’s books to complement the photographs and captions.
Roth has visited the exhibit several times, and Steinbaum says he is pleased.
“A primary theme in Roth’s writing is the troublesome interweaving of life with text,” she says. “Using the photographs, passages, and captions, the exhibit is another interweaving—in addition to being an affectionate appreciation of the author and his life.”
Steinbaum is dean of instruction at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, Livingston, N.J. An English graduate, she holds an MA in English from Bryn Mawr College, MA in school administration from Rutgers University, and Ph.D. in curriculum and teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University.