American novelist and short-story writer Philip Roth is best known for his provocative explorations of Jewish and American identity.
Famed American novelist Philip Roth was born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey. Roth graduated from Bucknell University in 1954. In 1959, he won the National Book Award for Goodbye, Columbus. Roth had his first best-seller with 1969's Portnoy's Complaint. Over the years, he has earned many accolades for his work, including a second National Book Award for 1995's Sabbath's Theatre and a Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. His later works include Everyman (2006) and Nemesis (2010).
Born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey, Philip Roth is considered one of the leading authors of the 20th century. He is best known for his provocative explorations of Jewish and American identity, often focusing on sexual and familial love and mortality. He is considered by many critics to be a literary troublemaker, graphically exploring uncomfortable cultural and familial issues.
Roth grew up with his older brother, Sandy, in a Jewish, middle-class family. Roth began his literary career in college. After briefly attending Rutgers University, Roth went on to Bucknell University, where he started up a magazine called Et Cetera. Some of his early short stories were featured in the publication.
After graduating in 1954, Roth spent some time in the U.S. Army. Even as a soldier, he continued to write. He later attended University of Chicago, where he earned a master's degree in English literature. Proving to be a controversial writer early on, Roth angered a number of Jewish readers with the story "Defender of the Faith," published in The New Yorker in 1957. "I was suddenly being assailed as an anti-Semite, this thing that I had detested all my life, and a self-hating Jew," Roth later explained to The New York Times.
In 1959, Roth became one of the rising stars of American fiction with the publication of Goodbye, Columbus. This work won the National Book Award and was later turned into a feature film starring Richard Benjamin. Nearly a decade later, Roth found himself immersed in a sea of controversy over his novel Portnoy's Complaint (1969). The book was considered scandalous by some for its depiction of masturbation. "Portnoy was blunt about sex," Roth explained to People magazine. Portnoy's Complaint became a huge commercial hit.
By the end of the 1970s, Roth had begun writing works that featured his literary alter ego, writer Nathan Zuckerman. This character first appeared in The Ghost Writer (1979) and recurred in such works as Zuckerman Unbound (1981) and The Anatomy Lesson. While there may be some commonality between Roth and Zuckerman, Roth has insisted that his novels are not autobiographical. He told The Nation that readers who only see his life in his works "are simply numb to fiction—numb to impersonation, to ventriloquism, to irony, numb to the thousand observations of human life on which a book is built."
Roth won the National Book Award again for Sabbath's Theatre in 1995. The story revolves around Mickey Sabbath, a former puppeteer, who starts to unravel after the death of one of his lovers. Three years later, Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for American Pastoral (1997). This novel, part of a trilogy that also includes I Married a Communist (1998) and The Human Stain (2000), brings back Nathan Zuckerman to help tell the story of Jewish businessman Seymour "Swede" Levov.
In all, Roth has produced more than 30 books during his career. His most recent titles include Everyman (2006) and Nemesis (2010). He announced that he was retiring from writing in 2012, but it is difficult to believe that this great man of letters will stay away from the printed word forever.
Known for being a bit of recluse, Roth spends much of his time at his Warren, Connecticut, home. He has been married twice. In 1959, Roth married Margaret Martinson. The pair were estranged, but not divorced before her death in a car accident in 1968. He later married actress Claire Bloom. The pair separated around 1993 and divorced two years later. She wrote about their relationship in her memoir, Leaving a Doll's House.
Philip Roth wins the Man Booker International Prize
America's Pullitzer prize winning novelist Philip Roth is honoured for lifetime of great work.
By Martin Chilton, Digital Culture Editor
8:57AM BST 18 May 2011
American novelist Philip Roth has won the fourth Man Booker International Prize.
The award, worth £60,000, is presented every two years for an achievement in fiction on the world stage and Roth, 78, beat 12 rival authors - including Rohinton Mistry, Philip Pullman and Anne Tyler - to the award.
Rick Gekoski, chairman of the judging panel, said today in Sydney: "For more than 50 years Philip Roth's books have stimulated, provoked, and amused an enormous, and still expanding audience. His imagination has not only recast our idea of Jewish identity, it has also reanimated fiction, and not just American fiction, generally."
Roth could not travel to Sydney to receive the accolade because of back problems but said in a video message from his home in Connecticut: "One of the particular pleasures I've had as a writer is to have my work read internationally despite all the heartaches of translation that that entails. I hope the prize will bring me to the attention of readers around the world who are not familiar with my work. This is a great honour and I'm delighted to receive it."
The award honours a writer's body of work as opposed to the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction, which is awarded for a single book. British author John le Carré had rejected his nomination, saying he did not compete for literary prizes, but the judges kept him on the shortlist anyway, citing their admiration for his work.
Roth is best known for his 1969 novel Portnoy's Complaint, and for his late-1990s trilogy comprising the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral (1997), I Married a Communist (1998), and The Human Stain (2000).
Roth is the most decorated living American writer, winning the National Book Award at 26 for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus in 1960, and in 1995 for the raucous and sexually-charged novel Sabbath's Theater.
He has won two National Book Critics Circle awards and three PEN/Faulkner awards. In 2001 he was awarded the gold medal for fiction by The American Academy of Arts and Letters.
His most recent book, Nemesis, was published in 2010. Last year, Roth said he disliked e-books and the distracting influences of modern technology, which he believes diminish the ability to appreciate the aesthetic experience of reading books on paper.
"It is a shame. It is also what is happening, and there is nothing at all to do about it," he said.
Chinese writers featured on the 2011 shortlist for the first time. Wang Anyi, who wrote The Song of Everlasting Sorrow and Su Tong, whose novella Wives and Concubines was the basis of the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated movie Raise the Red Lantern, were up against Roth. Also on the shortlist was Australia's David Malouf.
The prize will be awarded at a dinner ceremony in London on Tuesday June 28th.
It has previously been won by Albanian author Ismail Kadare in 2005, Nigeria's Chinua Achebe in 2007 and Alice Munro of Canada in 2009.
Give Philip Roth the Nobel Prize as a retirement present
Philip Roth, the greatest novelist of our time, saved some of his best work until the end.
By James Walton
7:00AM GMT 13 Nov 2012
For fans of Philip Roth, his recent announcement that he’s “done with fiction” will have come not just as a sad blow, but also as a genuine shock. It’s a bit like hearing that Keith Richards has given up rock and roll — or that the Pope is abandoning religion.
After all, in a profession not unknown for the obsessiveness of its practitioners, Roth has taken things further than most. “My autobiography,” he said as long ago as 1981, “would consist almost entirely of chapters about me sitting alone in a room looking at a typewriter. The uneventfulness … would make Beckett’s The Unnamable read like Dickens.”
And, as it turns out, he wasn’t joking. When his relationship with Claire Bloom was in its first romantic flush, he invited her to spend three weeks at his home in rural Connecticut. According to one of the many slightly bewildered sections in her autobiography Leaving A Doll’s House, he then spent every day writing in his study — and every evening reading Conrad, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoevsky. When the Berlin Wall fell, he warned fellow novelist Ivan Klíma of the dangers now posed to Czech literature by commercial television — which “almost everybody watches all the time because it is entertaining [his, presumably scornful, italics].”
In his commitment to such high-mindedness, Roth was perhaps a product of his generation. As the millennium approached, his contemporary John Updike was asked why writers who first emerged in the Fifties were still dominating American fiction. “We weren’t idealistic about much, we children of the 1950s,” he replied, “but we were certainly idealistic about art. We went into it with the highest kind of ambition — not to get rich or to impress women, but to make our mark as Proust and Joyce had made their mark.”
Luckily, in both cases, this seriousness of purpose wasn’t incompatible with blisteringly comic fiction. Roth’s own debut, Goodbye Columbus and Other Stories (1959), lifted the lid on the Jewish Newark where he grew up. The result was not to everybody’s taste, with rabbis famously denouncing him in American synagogues for supplying ammunition to the gentiles. Roth’s response, after a couple of comparatively decorous novels, was the ferociously indecorous Portnoy’s Complaint. America’s bestselling novel of 1969, the book did much to popularise the myth of the castrating Jewish mother. It also, of course, gave masturbation its first starring role in a serious (if very funny) work of fiction.
Since then, thanks to what he himself has called the “fanatical habit” of writing all day for 365 days a year, Roth has produced 25 further novels — almost all of them somewhere between very good and authentically great. So, why has he decided to call it a day?
The most sentimental — and therefore least likely — theory is that the single-minded pursuit of literary greatness must have come at quite a cost, and that Roth is now beginning to realise it. Apparently, he marked his retirement by rereading his favourite authors and all of his own novels to see how he’d done. After that, he’s quoted as saying, “I don’t want to read fiction, I don’t want to write it, and I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. I dedicated my life to the novel. At the exclusion of nearly everything else. It’s enough!”
Another possibility is that he’s turned his famous ruthlessness on himself. Roth is fond of quoting the Polish poet and Nobel Prize winner Czesław Milosz that “when a writer is born into a family, the family is finished”. His work, as Claire Bloom later discovered to her horror, has always used whatever and whoever it needs to achieve its crunching effects. Now, though, he seems to be just as unsparing about his own ability to hack it any more: “I don’t think a new book will change what I’ve already done, and if I write a new book it will probably be a failure. Who needs to read one more mediocre book?”
Writers, in other words, may not usually retire — but perhaps they should. Certainly, Saul Bellow didn’t do himself any favours with his last novel Ravelstein, published when he was 85. Not only was the book a shameless and unappealing celebration of intellectual snobbery, but it was close enough to his earlier work to make you wonder if he’d always been like that. (On reflection, he hadn’t.) So, when Roth says, “I don’t know anything anymore about America today”, it might do just as well to take his word for it, rather than have to put up with the kind of embarrassing curmudgeonly rant that Bellow provided.
And at least this way, Roth did end on a high. His 21st-century work has been undeniably patchy — and in 2009 the only real clunker of his career, The Humbling, did at times approach Bellovian levels of embarrassment. Even so, his final novel Nemesis, the heartbreaking tale of a polio outbreak among (of course) the Jews of 1940s Newark, was such a bona fide masterpiece that it’s tempting to think he made one last big — and successful — effort to remind us of his greatness. It’s not a parallel that Roth might appreciate, but think of the Beatles making sure they were on their best behaviour when, knowing it would be their last album, they made Abbey Road.
Now, all that’s needed is a nice little Nobel Prize to honour surely the greatest novelist of our time …
Philip Roth, winner of the Man Booker International prize, on life, old age and being jewish.
American author Philip RothPhoto: AP
10:22AM BST 18 May 2011
American novelist Philip Roth has won the fourth Man Booker International Prize. Here are some of his most memorable, gloomy, quotes.
"Old age isn't a battle; old age is a massacre." Everyman
"He had learned the worst lesson that life can teach - that it makes no sense." American Pastoral
"The only obsession everyone wants: 'love.' People think that in falling in love they make themselves whole? The Platonic union of souls? I think otherwise. I think you're whole before you begin. And the love fractures you. You're whole, and then you're cracked open." The Dying Animal
"All that we don’t know is astonishing. Even more astonishing is what passes for knowing." The Human Stain
"Nor had I understood til then how the shameless vanity of utter fools can so strongly determine the fate of others."
The Plot Against America
"Good Christ, a Jewish man with parents alive is a fifteen-year-old boy, and will remain a fifteen-year-old boy till they die." Portnoy's Complaint
"Life is just a short period of time in which you are alive." American Pastoral
"As for himself, however hateful life was, it was hateful in a home and not in the gutter. Many Americans hated their homes. The number of homeless in America couldn't touch the number of Americans who had homes and families and hated the whole thing." Sabbath's Theater
"People are unjust to anger — it can be enlivening and a lot of fun." The Counterlife
"The legend engraved on the face of the Jewish nickel– on the body of every Jewish child!– not IN GOD WE TRUST, but SOMEDAY YOU'LL BE A PARENT AND YOU'LL KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE." Portnoy's Complaint
"Nothing keeps its promise." Sabbath's Theater
"You don't have to work in a mental hospital to know about husbands and wives." Sabbath's Theater
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author told a French magazine that his 2010 novel, Nemesis, was his final work of fiction Photo: REX FEATURES
Philip Roth announces his retirement
Philip Roth, the 79-year-old author, says Nemesis was his last novel and he will never write another book.
By By Anita Singh
8:00PM GMT 09 Nov 2012
Philip Roth, the novelist widely regarded as one of America’s greatest living writers, has announced his retirement at 79.
“I don’t think that one book more or less will alter what I’ve already done. If I write a new book, it will probably be a failure.
“Who wants to read a mediocre book?” Roth said.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author told a French magazine that his 2010 novel, Nemesis, was his final work of fiction.
“To tell you the truth, I’m done,” he said. “I do not want to write more. I have dedicated my life to the novel - I studied, I taught, I wrote and I read, to the exclusion of almost everything else.
“Enough is enough. I no longer feel this fanaticism to write.”
Asked if he had more to say about contemporary America, Roth replied: “I know nothing about the America of today. I see it on the TV. But I don’t live it any more.”
His career has spanned more than 50 years and includes the acclaimed American Pastoral, The Human Stain, Portnoy’s Complaint and Goodbye, Columbus.
Roth said he was inspired by EM Forster, who stopped writing fiction many years before his death. He also quoted Joe Louis, the boxer. “At the end of his life, Joe Louis said, ‘I did the best I could with what I had’. This is exactly what I would say of my work.”
His writing has not been without controversy and he has faced accusations of misogyny. Last year, feminist publisher Carmen Callil walked out in protest when fellow Man Booker International Prize judges chose Roth as their winner.
She complained: “I don’t rate him as a writer at all. In 20 years’ time, will anyone read him?”
Philip Roth has written 31 books over 50 years. Here is the Telegraph's choice of the five you should start with
Philip Roth in 1990Photo: Ian Cook/Rex
By Sameer Rahim
1:28PM BST 18 May 2011
Goodbye, Columbus (1959)
Roth’s first book, published when he was 26, consisted of a novella and five short stories. The title novella follows a young Jewish man from New Jersey who falls in love with a rich girl. There is a remarkable lightness of touch in this book that Roth never recaptured.
Portnoy’s Complaint (1969)
Often described as wildly funny, Portnoy’s Complaint abandoned traditional narrative and trusted the self-conscious voice of Alexander Portnoy. Notorious for its comic depictions of masturbation and the narrator’s sexual obsession with gentile or Shiksa girls, the novel was Roth’s breakthrough book, but perhaps doesn’t stand up that well after 40 years.
The Ghost Writer (1979)
In his middle period, Roth became obsessed with alter-egos. Nathan Zuckerman is a writer accused of travestying his fellow Jews in his work and asks advice from an older Jewish writer (based in part on Bernard Malamud). But Zuckerman finds himself drawn to a young girl he imagines is Anne Frank. In 2007 Roth tied up the story with Exit Ghost, Zuckerman’s last appearance.
Sabbath’s Theater (1995)
Even Martin Amis was shocked by the sex in this late-era Roth – he said he flicked through looking for the clean bits – but this tale of the puppeteer Mickey Sabbath is more than just an experiment in the outrageously perverse. Sabbath is an unforgiving Prospero, his magic faded, raging against death. It has one of the best final lines in modern literature: “How could he leave? How could he go? Everything he hated was here”.
American Pastoral (1997)
After the depravity of Sabbath, Roth wrote about a genuinely good man, Seymour “Swede” Levov. Set in the Sixties, American Pastoral shows the devastation caused when Levov’s teenage daughter gets involved in a far-Left group that protests violently against the Vietnam War. Probably Roth’s greatest book.
In 1959 he writes Goodbye, Columbus and it's a masterpiece, magnificent. Fifty-one years later he's 78 years old and he writes Nemesis and it is so wonderful, such a terrific novel ... Tell me one other writer who 50 years apart writes masterpieces ... If you look at the trajectory of the average novel writer, there is a learning period, then a period of high achievement, then the talent runs out and in middle age they start slowly to decline. People say why aren't Martin [Amis] and Julian [Barnes] getting on the Booker prize shortlist, but that's what happens in middle age. Philip Roth, though, gets better and better in middle age. In the 1990s he was almost incapable of not writing a masterpiece—The Human Stain, The Plot Against America, I Married a Communist. He was 65–70 years old, what the hell's he doing writing that well?
Flood, Alison (May 18, 2011). "Judge withdraws over Philip Roth's Booker win". The Guardian. London.
The Ghost Writer (1979)
Zuckerman Unbound (1981)
The Anatomy Lesson (1983)
The Prague Orgy (1985)
(The above four books are collected as Zuckerman Bound)
The Counterlife (1986)
American Pastoral (1997)
I Married a Communist (1998)
The Human Stain (2000)
Exit Ghost (2007)
The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography (1988)
Deception: A Novel (1990)
Patrimony: A True Story (1991)
Operation Shylock: A Confession (1993)
The Plot Against America (2004)
The Breast (1972)
The Professor of Desire (1977)
The Dying Animal (2001)
The Humbling (2009)
Goodbye, Columbus (1959)
Letting Go (1962)
When She Was Good (1967)
Portnoy's Complaint (1969)
Our Gang (1971)
The Great American Novel (1973)
My Life as a Man (1974)
Sabbath's Theater (1995)
Reading Myself and Others (1976)
A Philip Roth Reader (1980, revised edition 1993)
Shop Talk (2001)
The Library of America's definitive edition of Philip Roth's collected works (2005–17)