As a columnist, journalist, editor and author, Roger Rosenblatt has a long history of working in the writing game – and over the years he’s won his share of mediums. We’re talking newspapers (Washington Post), magazines (Time), TV (MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour) and books – he’s written 20 to date, including ‘Making Toast’, a memoir about the sudden loss of his daughter , Amy, a pediatrician who died of asymptomatic heart disease in 2007 at the age of 38. Her 21st book, “Cataract Blues,” is slated for release this fall. Another milestone for Rosenblatt – the creation of the nationally acclaimed reading series, Write America. He even tried his hand at podcasting.
Along the way, Rosenblatt, who since 2008 has been Emeritus Professor of English and Writing at Stony Brook University’s Southampton Campus, has also won numerous accolades and awards for his work, including the Book Prize. Robert F. Kennedy, a Peabody Award, an Emmy and two George Polk Awards. He was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Yet despite his vast experience and journalistic travels that have taken him around the world, Rosenblatt will tell you that his proudest professional achievement, without a doubt, is to have been involved in the creation of the MFA program in writing on the Southampton campus. in the 1990s, when it was still part of Long Island University.
“One of the things that means the most to me is to have invented and established – with [English professor] Robert Pattison – the MFA program in writing, first at Long Island University, and now at Stony Brook,” Rosenblatt said in a recent interview. “Usually I did things with words. Now I have done something about the words. Very satisfaying.
Many aspiring authors studied the art of writing under his tutelage, and Rosenblatt inspired successive generations of wordsmiths. But on July 31, Rosenblatt, 81, officially put down his pen and closed his notebook – at least as far as teaching was concerned – and retired from Stony Brook Southampton.
Now, after living in Quogue for the past 24 years, Rosenblatt and his wife, Ginny, have packed up and moved out of the East End and are happily settled in an apartment in Manhattan.
“We thought, we’re getting older, why not go back to town and be near our doctors?” he said. “We are at 92nd and York with a great view of the river.”
Asked about his decision to leave his role at Stony Brook Southampton, Rosenblatt explained: “About a year ago I decided it would be my last year. I loved the teaching and the students. But after a while, I got tired of the sound of my voice, repeating things that may be new to them, but weren’t to me.
While there are mature adults among us who make a point of complaining that the youth work ethic isn’t what it used to be, Rosenblatt has no such grudge with the student population of ‘today. In fact, he noted that over the years he’s seen the quality of his students rise and rise, despite the uncertainties that awaited him to carve out a career as a writer, let alone a journalist.
“These are students with no guaranteed lives — not like law school or medical school,” said Rosenblatt, who notes that his own writing journey began as a teenager.
“I wanted to write poems from the age of 12. At Harvard, I studied with Robert Lowell. It was a select group of people, but I wasn’t good enough to be a full-time poet — or I didn’t have the patience,” said Rosenblatt, who earned her doctorate. from Harvard in the mid-1960s and was a Fulbright Scholar in Ireland. “One thing about poets is that they can wait 25 years for someone to recognize them. Journalism is the place to not wait.
This is why journalism is exactly the field to which Rosenblatt gravitated. He worked as a literary editor and columnist for The New Republic and in 1979 became an essayist for Time magazine. It was while working for Time that Rosenblatt wrote the most important piece of his journalistic career – a special report in the early 1980s called “Children of War”, which focused on the hopes and fears of young people caught up in various conflict zones around the world.
“I went to the editor of Time and said, ‘I’m sick of essays. I want to write about children in war zones,'” Rosenblatt recalled. y.’ So I went to five war zones It wouldn’t happen today because there wouldn’t be an office anywhere you go I was in catbird headquarters at the time and in a golden age of journalism.
In “Children of War”, Rosenblatt immersed himself in the experiences of children in Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Israel, Cambodia and Vietnam.
“It was a 25,000-word story and known around the world,” Rosenblatt said. “I ended up going to Thailand instead of Cambodia because I couldn’t get in there. For Vietnam, I couldn’t get in there either, but the refugees were in Hong Kong, so I saw them there.
“This story caused a stir and won the George Polk Award,” Rosenblatt said. “The people at Pulitzer said, ‘We don’t give Pulitzer to the magazine.’ Of course, now they do. Then it became a book and a front-page review in the New York Times Book Review.
“It was a happy coincidence of inspiration and timing.”
After this article, Rosenblatt continued to write about conflict zones and traveled to Rwanda for The New York Times magazine and Sudan for Vanity Fair.
“Every time I’ve seen the world in distress, it’s been unforgiving,” said Rosenblatt who reported using the lengthy essay as form. “It was a genre that didn’t really exist. When I started writing more books, starting with “Making Toast” after our daughter died, I saw that I had a style that seemed to welcome poetry in prose and critics felt it. too. I was late getting where I was going.
Rosenblatt’s foray into the world of television began in the early 80s with PBS’s MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour. He was asked by the show’s creators, Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, to periodically record some of his time essays which were then paired with footage to illustrate the subject matter for the broadcast audience.
“We presented the original essay and produced something unique on television at the time,” Rosenblatt said. “When I turned 80 last year some friends gave me a roast and Judy Woodruff was the funniest. She said ‘We put Roger on when we looked dead.’
“Television gave me a new understanding of the medium. The visual element of the essays was much more powerful than just the verbal,” Rosenblatt added. “Even when I thought I had hit a home run, the visuals really carried the weight. ‘test.”
In 2006, Rosenblatt left her posts at Time and the NewsHour and gave up journalism altogether to focus on teaching and another type of writing. It was during his time at Stony Brook Southampton that Rosenblatt really honed in on what it meant to be an author – and prolific at that.
“I always knew I wanted to write seriously, or even in a comedic way, so the books started coming in,” said Rosenblatt, who with the release in the fall of “Cataract Blues,” which he describes as an elegiac essay on mystery, memory and the color blue, has published 11 books since joining Stony Brook University 16 years ago. Four of these books have been bestsellers.
Her first novel, “Lapham Rising,” was a national bestseller published in 2006, while “Making Toast,” her memoir about the death of her daughter Amy, was a New York Times bestseller. Published in 2010, it was based on an essay Rosenblatt first wrote for The New Yorker magazine.
“Amy’s death brought me reluctantly to a new place. [New Yorker editor] David Remnick asked me to write an article about it,” he said. “I waited a year. I would do anything not to write a book and keep her alive.
Rosenblatt’s second bereavement book “Kayak Morning” came out in 2012, and he notes that it has been helpful to thousands of people who, like him and his wife Ginny, have suffered unfathomable loss.
As he reflects on his time, first at Long Island University and later at Stony Brook Southampton, Rosenblatt also recalls his role in establishing the first summer writers conference on campus.
“I called Frank McCourt and he said ‘yes,’ then EL Doctorow, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Billy Collins, and we did a summer writers conference,” Rosenblatt said. “I would say it was around 2000. It was a lot of fun. It was a great program and afterwards we went to sing at local restaurants.
Now, with his retirement, Rosenblatt looks forward to the next chapter – staying pragmatic and thinking not only about where he’s been, but also where he’s gone next.
“I served as Emeritus Professor of English and Writing at Stony Brook for 16 years,” he said. “I’ve been teaching for almost 60 years, I started at Harvard when I was 22, and I knew next to nothing.
“Now at 81, well, I don’t know anything.”