Philip Roth, Former Writers' Workshop Faculty

Prize Work: American Pastoral; Pulitzer Prize: 1998 Fiction

Philip Roth (born 1933) is an American novelist.

Philip RothAuthor Biography - Roth grew up in the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, as the second child of first-generation American parents, Jews of Galician descent. After graduating from Weequahic High School in 1950, Roth went on to attend Bucknell University, where he earned a degree in English. He then pursued graduate studies at the University of Chicago, where he received an M.A. in English literature and then worked briefly as an instructor in the university's writing program. Roth went on to teach creative writing at the University of Iowa and Princeton University. He continued his teaching career at the University of Pennsylvania where he taught comparative literature before retiring from teaching in 1992.

Roth was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, the oldest child of first generation Jewish-American parents of Galician descent. After graduating from high school at the age of 16, Roth went on to attend Bucknell University, earning a degree in English. He then pursued graduate studies at the University of Chicago, receiving a M.A. in English literature and then went on to teach creative writing at the University of Iowa and Princeton University. .

It was during his Chicago stay that Roth met the novelist Saul Bellow, who briefly became his mentor, and Margaret Martinson, who eventually became his first wife. Though the two would separate in 1963, and Martinson would die in a car crash in 1968, Roth's dysfunctional marriage to her left an important mark on his literary output. Specifically, Martinson is the inspiration for female characters in several of Roth's novels, including Mary Jane Reed (aka "the Monkey") in Portnoy's Complaint.

Between the end of his studies and the publication of his first book in 1959, Roth served 2 years in the army and then wrote short fiction and criticism for various magazines, including movie reviews for The New Republic. His first novella, Goodbye Columbus, won the prestigious National Book Award in 1960, and afterward he published two long, bleak novels, Letting Go and When She Was Good; it was not until the publication of his third novel, Portnoy's Complaint in 1969 that Roth enjoyed widespread commercial and critical success.

During the 1970s Roth experimented in various modes, from the political satire Our Gang to the Kafkaesque fantasy The Breast. By the end of the decade, though, Roth had created his Nathan Zuckerman alter-ego. In the series of highly self-referential novels that have followed since, Zuckerman almost always appears as either the main character or at least as an interlocuter. The number of books published during this period as well as the prestigious awards several of them have won lead many to consider it the most productive in Roth's career.

Events in Roth's personal life during the same time, though, were more mixed. According to his pseudo-confessional novel, Operation Shylock, Roth suffered a nervous breakdown in the late 1980s as a result of pain-killers prescribed to him after a difficult knee operation. On April 19, 1990, he married long-time companion and English actress, Claire Bloom. In 1994 they separated and in 1996 Bloom published an embarrassing memoir detailing their relationship called Leaving a Doll's House. It is rumoured Roth was infuriated by his unflattering depiction there, and that to exact revenge he caricatured Bloom as the poisonous Eve Frame character in I Married a Communist.

Philip Roth is inarguably the most decorated writer of his era: three of his works of fiction have won the National Book Award; two others were finalists. Two have won the National Book Critic's Circle Award; another two were finalists. He has also won two PEN/Faulkner Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for American Pastoral. In 2002, he was awarded the National Book Foundation's Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Most remarkably, four of his last six novels have either won or been named finalists for one or more of America's four most prestigious literary awards, a phenomenal achievement for a writer now entering his seventh decade. Literary critic Harold Bloom has named him as one of the four major American novelists still at work, along with Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Cormac McCarthy. In early 2004, the Philip Roth Society announced publication of the Philip Roth Studies journal. The inaugural issue will be released in fall 2004.

Philip Roth currently lives alone in the Connecticut countryside.


Learn More About Roth's Prize Winning Work

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

Book Description
As the American century draws to an uneasy close, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all our century's promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth's protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father's glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede's beautiful American luck deserts him.

For Swede's adored daughter, Merry, has grown from a loving, quick-witted girl into a sullen, fanatical teenager—a teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism. And overnight Swede is wrenched out of the longer-for American pastoral and into the indigenous American berserk. Compulsively readable, propelled by sorrow, rage, and a deep compassion for its characters, this is Roth's masterpiece.

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Editorial Reviews
View editorial reviews from The New York Times, Library Journal,, The Atlantic Monthly and more. Read the reviews >>

An Interview with Philip Roth

In an interview in November 2004, from the PBS website, Philip Roth answers some questions on about his approach to writing novels and his role as a writer. (Video and audio version available.)
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Bibliography - Philip Roth

* Goodbye, Columbus (1959)
* Letting Go (1962)
* When She Was Good (1967)
* Portnoy's Complaint (1969)
* Our Gang (1971)
* The Breast (1972)
* The Great American Novel (1973)
* My Life As a Man (1974)
* Reading Myself and Others (1976)
* The Professor of Desire (1977)
* The Ghost Writer (1979)
* A Philip Roth Reader (1980)
* Zuckerman Unbound (1981)
* The Anatomy Lesson (1983)
* The Prague Orgy (1985)
* The Counterlife (1986)
* The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography (1988)
* Deception: A Novel (1990)
* Patrimony: A Memoir (1991)
* Operation Shylock: A Confession (1993)
* Sabbath's Theater (1995)
* American Pastoral (1997)
* I Married a Communist (1998)
* The Human Stain (2000)
* Shop Talk (2001)
* The Dying Animal (2001)
* The Plot Against America (2004)
* Everyman (2006)
* Exit Ghost (2007)

External links