How Philip Roth's Writing Transcended The Narrow Confines Of A Culture

26 May, 2018, 10:55 | Author: Christina Harvey
  • Philip Roth: A literary life in seven stages

Philip Roth, a prominent and prolific American author, passed away at the age of 85 on Tuesday night from congestive heart failure.

Eight of Roth's novels have been adapted into movies, including the 2016 drama "Indignation" starring Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon, and "American Pastoral" starring Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning and Uzo Aduba. After receiving an M.A.in English literature from the University of Chicago, Roth published his first story in The New Yorker in 1958 and achieved his first measure of fame with the publication of his debut short story collection, Goodbye, Columbus, in 1959.

"His imagination has not only recast our idea of Jewish identity, it has also reanimated fiction, and not just American fiction, generally", the chair of the judges of the prize announced at the time.

"I decided that I was done with fiction", he said.

During his career Mr. Roth wrote more than 30 books, according to his publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. When Roth won the Man Booker International Prize, in 2011, a judge resigned, alleging that the author suffered from terminal solipsism and went "on and on and on about the same subject in nearly every single book".

In 2014, the writer whose works were once denounced as profane and even self-hating was honored by one of American Jewry's sacred citadels when the Jewish Theological Seminary, Conservative Judaism's flagship educational institution, awarded Roth an honorary doctorate at its commencement ceremony.

"The death of Philip Roth marks, in its way, the end of a cultural era as definitively as the death of Pablo Picasso did in 1973", he wrote.




Roth never won the Nobel Prize, but was awarded almost every other accolade going - including the Pulitzer, National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Man Booker prize for global achievement.

The writer was born on March 19, 1933 in Newark, New Jersey.

Roth acknowledged as much in an interview this year with The New York Times, saying he was "no longer in possession of the mental vitality or the physical fitness needed to mount and sustain a large creative attack of any duration".

Readers have long argued over the true level of autobiography in Roth's novels and the character Nathan Zuckerman, whose passage from aspiring young writer to socially compromised literary celebrity Roth traced in five novels, has generally been seen as the author's alter ego.

In the Trump era, or in a divisive world for that matter, it is impossible to read his reimagining of history in The Plot Against America - what if F.D. Roosevelt had lost in 1940 and white supremacist Charles Lindbergh had won? - and not be touched by its eerie foreboding. A memorial is being planned in NY, possibly in September, his biographer Blake Bailey said.

Roth, however, often demurred when it was suggested that he should be defined as an American Jewish writer.

The topics Roth wrote about included the Jewish experience in America, promiscuous male sexuality, and the hypocrisy and disillusionment of American political life since the 1940s.

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