Published: Sat, May 26, 2018
Culture | By Margie Dunn

Philip Roth (1933-2018)

Philip Roth (1933-2018)

Philip Roth, whose notorious novels about the sex drives of American men gave way to some of the most probing examinations of the American Jewish condition in the 20th and 21st centuries, has died.

"He was, in my opinion, a very great writer and a very great man".

In this March 24, 1960 file photo, the three winners of the National Book Award, Robert Lowell, from left, awarded for the most distinguished book of poetry, Richard Ellmann, victor in the non-fiction category, and Philip Roth, recipient of the award in the fiction category for his book 'Goodbye, Columbus, ' pose at the Astor Hotel in New York City.

A prolific essayist and critic, Roth was best known for mining the Jewish-American experience in his work. He won numerous awards, and was often talked about as a contender for the Nobel prize.

The president of the Philip Roth Society, Aimee Pozorski, once said of Roth, "From the very beginning of his career, he has been deeply invested in representing the lives and fates of Jewish youth". But he received virtually every other literary honour, including two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle prizes and, in 1998, the Pulitzer for American Pastoral.

Roth had been especially prolific in the years leading to his 2012 retirement from writing, turning out novels almost every two years. A panel moderator berated him for his comic portrayals of Jews, asking Roth if he would have written the same books in Nazi Germany.

File photo: Then-President Barack Obama (R) presents the National Humanities Medal to novelist Philip Roth during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, DC.

Roth had a long relationship with British actress Claire Bloom but their five-year marriage ended in divorce in 1995.

Philip was married twice in his lifetime. I began to read in my second year.

Roth was born in 1933 in Newark, N.J., a time and place he remembered lovingly in The Facts, American Pastoral and other works. Although most of his work moved within parameters of a realistic conception of fiction, in some novels, such as The Counterlife (1986), experimented with possibilities of narrative, looking for new forms of expression. His father was an insurance broker. He was outgoing and brilliant and, tall and dark-haired, especially attractive to girls.

From "Goodbye, Columbus" to "The Plot Against America", the celebrated novelist reflects on his literary identities, fame, family, controversy and growing old in this conversation with Eleanor Wachtel from 2009. He enrolled in Bucknell University as a law student and eventually switched to literature at the encouragement of a professor, who went on to become long-time friends with Roth.

Roth's first published book was the 1959 novella and short-story collection "Goodbye, Columbus, ' which won the National Book Award". Bellow was an early influence, as were Thomas Wolfe, Flaubert, Henry James and Kafka, whose picture Roth hung in his writing room.

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