Philip Roth


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Philip Milton Roth (March 19, 1933 – May 22, 2018) was an American novelist and short story writer. Roth's fiction—often set in his birthplace of Newark, New Jersey—is known for its intensely autobiographical character, philosophically and formally blurring the distinction between reality and fiction, and its "sensual, ingenious style" and for its provocative explorations of American identity. He first gained attention with the 1959 novella Goodbye, Columbus; the collection so titled received the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.

He became one of the most awarded American writers of his generation. His books twice received the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle award, and three times the PEN/Faulkner Award. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 novel American Pastoral, which featured one of his best-known characters, Nathan Zuckerman. The Human Stain (2000), another Zuckerman novel, was awarded the United Kingdom's WH Smith Literary Award for the year's best book. In 2001, Roth received the inaugural Franz Kafka Prize in Prague.

Roth attended Rutgers University in Newark for a year, then transferred to Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He earned a B.A. magna cum laude in English and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He received a scholarship to attend the University of Chicago, where he earned an M.A. in English literature in 1955 and briefly worked as an instructor in the university's writing program.

That same year, rather than wait to be drafted, Roth enlisted in the army, but he suffered a back injury during basic training and was given a medical discharge. He returned to Chicago in 1956 to study for a Ph.D. in literature but dropped out after one term. Roth taught creative writing at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the University of Iowa, and Princeton University. He later continued his academic career at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught comparative literature before retiring from teaching in 1991.

Roth's work first appeared in print in the Chicago Review while he was studying and later teaching at the University of Chicago. His first book, Goodbye, Columbus, contains the novella Goodbye, Columbus, and four short stories. It won the National Book Award in 1960. He published his first full-length novel, Letting Go, in 1962. In 1967 he published When She Was Good, set in the WASP Midwest in the 1940s. It is based partly on the life of Margaret Martinson Williams, whom Roth married in 1959.

The publication in 1969 of his fourth and most controversial novel, Portnoy's Complaint, gave Roth widespread commercial and critical success, causing his profile to rise significantly. During the 1970s, Roth experimented in various modes, from the political satire Our Gang (1971) to the Kafkaesque The Breast (1972). By the decade's end, Roth had created his alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. Zuckerman appeared as either the main character or an interlocutor in a series of highly self-referential novels and novellas that followed between 1979 and 1986.

Sabbath's Theater (1995) may have Roth's most lecherous protagonist, Mickey Sabbath, a disgraced former puppeteer. It won his second National Book Award. In complete contrast, American Pastoral (1997), the first volume of his so-called second Zuckerman trilogy, focuses on the life of virtuous Newark star athlete Swede Levov and the tragedy that befalls him when Levov's teenage daughter becomes a domestic terrorist during the late 1960s. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I Married a Communist (1998) focuses on the McCarthy era.

The Human Stain examines identity politics in 1990s America. The Dying Animal (2001) is a short novel about eros and death that revisits literary professor David Kepesh, the protagonist of two 1970s works, The Breast and The Professor of Desire (1977). In The Plot Against America (2004), Roth imagines an alternative American history in which Charles Lindbergh, an aviator hero, and isolationist, was elected U.S. President in 1940. The U.S. negotiates an understanding with Hitler's Nazi Germany and embarks on its own program of anti-Semitism.

Roth's novel Everyman, a meditation on illness, aging, desire, and death, was published in May 2006. It was Roth's third book to win the PEN/Faulkner Award, making him the only person so honored. Exit Ghost, which again features Nathan Zuckerman, was released in October 2007. It was the last Zuckerman novel. Indignation, Roth's 29th book, was published on September 16, 2008. Set in 1951, during the Korean War; it follows Marcus Messner's departure from Newark to Ohio's Winesburg College, where he begins his sophomore year. 

In 2009, Roth's 30th book, The Humbling, was published. It tells the story of the last performances of Simon Axler, a celebrated stage actor. Roth's 31st book, Nemesis, was published on October 5, 2010. According to the book's notes, Nemesis is the last in a series of four "short novels" after Everyman, Indignation, and The Humbling.

Best author’s book


American Pastoral