Philip Roth, 1933-2018

May 23, 2018 | Book Buzz

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"Life is just a short period of time in which you are alive." – Philip Roth

American novelist Philip Roth was born in New Jersey in 1933. He described his childhood as happy and secure. Roth briefly attended Newark College of Rutgers University intending to become a lawyer.  He soon realized that his true destiny was literature and left Rutgers after one year. He also left New Jersey and although he never lived in the state again, he returned often in his writing. After an undergraduate degree in English from Bucknell College in Pennsylvania, he completed his M.A. at the University of Chicago, where he worked as an instructor in the school's writing program. 

Following two years in the United States Army, he settled down to a life of writing and teaching. He continued to teach until 1991 and retired from writing in 2012. 

Roth won the National Book Award in 1960 with his first published book Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories. He would win the award again in 1995 for Sabbath's Theater. He won numerous awards for his work including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1998 for American Pastoral.

His novel Portnoy's Complaint besides appearing on The Guardian's list of The 100 Best Novels Written in English, is also featured in a conversation between Richard Nixon and H.R. Haldeman on the White House tapes. Nixon was upset by Roth's 1971 novel Our Gang, a satire of the president and his cabinet. 

Nixon asks Haldeman what he knows about the author and Haldeman replies "He wrote Goodbye, Columbus, which became a very big movie, which got him some notoriety. But then his big thing is Portnoy’s Complaint, which is the most obscene, pornographic book of all time."

Roth died of congestive heart failure on Tuesday May 22, 2018. He was 85. 

[Photo Credit: Publicity Photo of Philip Roth, 1973, by Nancy Crampton – public domain]