Pulitzer-winning author Philip Roth dies
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[May 23, 2018]
(Reuters) - Author Philip Roth, who
was both hailed and derided for laying bare the neuroses and obsessions
that haunted the modern Jewish-American experience, died on Tuesday at
the age of 85, his agent said.
Roth died in New York City at 10:30 p.m. local time of congestive heart
failure, his literary agent Andrew Wylie said.
Roth wrote more than 30 books, including the 1991 memoir "Patrimony,"
which examined his complex relationship with his father and won the
National Book Critics Circle Award.
In his later years, Roth turned to the existential and sexual crises of
middle age, never abandoning his commitment to exploring shame,
embarrassment and other guilty secrets of the self, although usually
with a heavy dose of humor.
After more than 50 years as a writer, Roth decided that 2010's
"Nemesis," the story of a polio epidemic in the Newark, New Jersey,
neighborhood where he grew up, would be his last novel. He then went
back and reread all his works "to see whether I'd wasted my time," he
said in a 2014 interview published in the New York Times Book Review.
For his conclusion, he quoted Joe Lewis, the heavyweight boxing champion
of the 1930s and '40s: "I did the best I could with what I had."
In 2017, he published "Why Write?," a collection of essays and
non-fiction works written between 1960 and 2013.
Roth's best-known work was the 1969 novel "Portnoy's Complaint," a
first-person narrative about Alexander Portnoy, a young middle-class
Jewish New Yorker. The book featured several notorious masturbation
scenes and a narrator who declared he wanted to "put the id back in
Roth's first published book was the 1959 novella and short-story
collection "Goodbye, Columbus," which won the National Book Award.
Several of his novels, including "Zuckerman Unbound," "The Ghost Writer"
and "The Anatomy Lesson", feature Nathan Zuckerman, a character who came
to be seen as Roth's fictional alter ego.
Roth liked to play with the distinctions between fact and fiction, often
writing about neurotic novelists and even naming some characters
"Philip." Yet he was frequently annoyed and amused by readers' desire to
project the real Roth onto his characters.
Although his novels often explored the Jewish experience in America,
Roth, who said he was an atheist, rejected being labeled a
"It's not a question that interests me. I know exactly what it means to
be Jewish and it's really not interesting," he told the Guardian
newspaper in 2005. "I'm an American."
Some critics said Roth's novels exposed him as a self-hating Jew who
played on negative stereotypes or generally cast Jews in a bad light. He
would recall the hostile reception at a symposium at New York's Yeshiva
University in 1962 as the "most bruising public exchange of my life."
Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for 1997's "American Pastoral," which
examined the impact of the 1960s on a New Jersey family. He was the
first three-time winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, honored for
"Operation Shylock" in 1994, "The Human Stain" in 2001 and "Everyman" in
2007. Roth also received the National Medal of Arts at the White House
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Author Philip Roth poses in New York September 15, 2010.
REUTERS/Eric Thayer/File Photo
Philip Milton Roth was born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New
Jersey. The son of an insurance salesman, Roth earned a bachelor's
degree at Buckle University and a master's degree in English from
the University of Chicago. He dropped out of the doctoral program in
1959 to write film reviews for the New Republic before "Goodbye,
Columbus" came out.
Roth taught comparative literature, mostly at the University of
Pennsylvania. He retired from teaching in 1992 as a distinguished
professor of literature at New York's Hunter College.
Roth had a long relationship with British actress Claire Bloom but
their five-year marriage ended in divorce in 1995. A year later, she
published a bruising memoir, "Leaving a Doll's House," in which she
portrayed him as depressed, remote, self-centered and verbally
Roth had been especially prolific in the years leading to his 2012
retirement from writing, turning out novels nearly every two years.
His more recent books included 2001's "The Dying Animal" and "The
Human Stain," published in 2000 and released in 2003 as a movie
starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman.
"The Plot Against America," published in 2004, imagines what would
have happened had flying ace Charles Lindbergh, an isolationist who
expressed anti-Semitic views, defeated Franklin Roosevelt in the
1940 election and signed a peace accord with Adolf Hitler.
Following the death of several friends, including novelist Saul
Bellow in 2005, Roth wrote "Everyman," a short work of fiction about
the physical decline and death of a successful advertising
Roth was considered a difficult interview subject and told the
Guardian he disliked discussing his books. "You should let people
fight with the books on their own and rediscover what they are and
what they are not."
Roth said the act of writing for him is "filled with fear and
loneliness and anxiety." But, he added: "There are some days that
compensate completely. In my life I have had, in total, a couple of
months of these completely wonderful days as a writer, and that is
In a New York Times interview in 2018, Roth reflected on his 50-plus
years as a writer, describing it as: "Exhilaration and groaning.
Frustration and freedom. Inspiration and uncertainty. Abundance and
emptiness. Blazing forth and muddling through."
(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Bill Trott, Diane Craft and
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