Novelist, journalist, and essayist Anne Roiphe was a respected contributor to the world of letters before moving away from assimilation toward an exploration of Jews and Jewish subjects.
Roiphe was born December 25, 1935, to Blanche (Phillips) and Eugene Roth, a lawyer, and grew up in affluence in New York City. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1957, married Jack Richardson the next year, and divorced in 1963. She had one child from that marriage, as well as two children and two stepchildren with Herman Roiphe, a psychoanalyst whom she married in 1967.
Roiphe is probably best known as a novelist. Her first novel, Digging Out, appeared in 1966 to good reviews, although as a whole her work has met with mixed critical success. Most of Roiphe’s protagonists are women driven by issues of personal identity: mother-daughter conflicts, struggles over middle-class values, and clashes between women’s personal aspirations and societal expectations. While her early novels often had Jewish protagonists, Jewish issues were decidedly incidental to the themes and plots of the novels.
Ironically, Roiphe’s return to Judaism was instigated by her family’s “celebration” of Christmas. In 1978, Roiphe wrote an article in the New York Times on how her family displayed a Christmas tree each year. The article became something of a cause célèbre, provoking a torrent of contemptuous and reproachful criticism from the Jewish community. In response—although perhaps more as a personal search than as an answer to her critics—Roiphe wrote her first nonfiction book, Generation Without Memory (1981). An account of a late twentieth-century American Jew detailing, reevaluating, and occasionally defending her assimilated life, Generation Without Memory is at turns insightful and shallow, raising tough questions without always necessarily engaging them head-on. At the end of the book, however, Roiphe declares her intention to search out a more meaningful form of Jewish life for herself.
Not surprisingly, Roiphe’s work since that time has been devoted largely, although not exclusively, to Jewish themes. As a journalist, Roiphe has been a frequent contributor to liberal Jewish magazines such as Present Tense and Tikkun, while continuing to write for the secular press, including a regular column in the New York Observer. Most recently, she has been a contributing editor to the Jerusalem Report. Her novels since the Times piece have focused largely on Jewish themes: Lovingkindness is a story of a mother coming to terms with her ba’alat teshuva daughter, while Pursuit of Happiness is a thinly veiled depiction of Roiphe’s own family history. Secrets of the City, originally published serially in the Forward, narrates the personal and political problems of a fictional Jewish mayor. Roiphe also wrote A Season for Healing, an extended rumination on balancing the universal and the particular implications of the Holocaust. Many critics, however, felt that Roiphe went too far by actually indicting Jewish “obsession” with the Holocaust for a host of problems facing the Jewish communities of America and Israel. Despite such criticisms, Anne Roiphe has become an important voice for those Jews who, while perhaps uncomfortable with organized religion, nevertheless feel an attraction and a commitment toward their Jewish heritage.
On June 7, 2004, Anne Roiphe was awarded the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award for Literary Arts from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.
Secrets of the City (2003); Married: A Fine Predicament (2002); 1185 Park Avenue: A Memoir (1999); Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World (1996); A Season for Healing: Reflections on the Holocaust (1988); Lovingkindess (1987); Generation Without Memory: A Jewish Journey in Christian America (1981); Up the Sandbox! (1970), Digging Out (1966).
Hoyt, Carolyn. “Anne Roiphe” Jewish Americam Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical and Critical Sourcebook (1994); Ross, Jean W. “Roiphe, Anne Richardson.” Contemporary Authors 89–92 (1980); Steinberg, Sybil S. “Anne Roiphe.” Publishers Weekly (August 2, 1993): 57–58; Strickland, Ruth L. “Anne Roiphe.” Dictionary of Literary Biography. Yearbook: 1980 (1981); Winter-Damon, Tim. “Roiphe, Anne (Richardson).” Contemporary Authors 45 (1995); Zelechow, Bernard. “The Odyssey of Anne Roiphe: Anatomy of an Alienated Jew.” Midstream 35 (August/September 1989): 43–47.