PHILIP ROTH Biography - Writers

 
 

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PHILIP ROTH

Philip Roth (born March 19, 1933) is a Jewish-American novelist who is best                 
known for his sexually explicit comedic novel Portnoy's Complaint (1969).                   
                                                                                             
Roth was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, the oldest child of first                   
generation Jewish-American parents of Galician descent. After graduating from               
high school at the age of 16, Roth went on to attend Bucknell University,                   
earning a degree in English. He then pursued graduate studies at the University             
of Chicago, receiving a M.A. in English literature and then working briefly as               
an instructor in the university's writing program.                                           
                                                                                             
It was during his Chicago stay that Roth met the novelist Saul Bellow, who                   
briefly became his mentor, and Margaret Martinson, who eventually became his                 
first wife. Though the two would separate in 1963, and Martinson would die in a             
car crash in 1968, Roth's dysfunctional marriage to her left an important mark               
on his literary output. Specifically, Martinson is the inspiration for female               
characters in several of Roth's novels, including Mary Jane Reed (aka "the                   
Monkey") in Portnoy's Complaint.                                                             
                                                                                             
Between the end of his studies and the publication of his first book in 1959,               
Roth served 2 years in the army and then wrote short fiction and criticism for               
various magazines, including movie reviews for The New Republic. His first                   
novella, Goodbye Columbus, won the prestigious National Book Award in 1960, and             
afterward he published two long, bleak novels, Letting Go and When She Was Good;             
it was not until the publication of his third novel, Portnoy's Complaint in 1969             
that Roth enjoyed widespread commercial and critical success.                               
                                                                                             
During the 1970s Roth experimented in various modes, from the political satire               
Our Gang to the Kafkaesque fantasy The Breast. By the end of the decade, though,             
Roth had created his Nathan Zuckerman alter-ego. In the series of highly self-referential   
novels that have followed since, Zuckerman almost always appears as either the               
main character or at least as an interlocuter. The number of books published                 
during this period as well as the prestigious awards several of them have won               
lead many to consider it the most productive in Roth's career.                               
                                                                                             
Events in Roth's personal life during the same time, though, were more mixed.               
According to his pseudo-confessional novel, Operation Shylock, Roth suffered a               
nervous breakdown in the late 1980s as a result of pain-killers prescribed to               
him after a difficult knee operation. On April 19, 1990, he married long-time               
companion and English actress, Claire Bloom. In 1994 they separated and in 1996             
Bloom published an embarrassing memoir detailing their relationship called                   
Leaving a Doll's House. It is rumoured Roth was infuriated by his unflattering               
depiction there, and that to exact revenge he caricatured Bloom as the poisonous             
Eve Frame character in I Married a Communist.                                               
                                                                                             
Philip Roth is inarguably the most decorated writer of his era: three of his                 
works of fiction have won the National Book Award; two others were finalists.               
Two have won the National Book Critic's Circle Award; another two were finalists.           
He has also won two PEN/Faulkner Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In                 
2002, he was awarded the National Book Foundation's Award for Distinguished                 
Contribution to American Letters. Most remarkably, four of his last six novels               
have either won or been named finalists for one or more of America's four most               
prestigious literary awards, a phenomenal achievement for a writer now entering             
his seventh decade. Literary critic Harold Bloom has named him as one of the                 
four major American novelists still at work, along with Thomas Pynchon, Don                 
DeLillo, and Cormac McCarthy. In early 2004, the Philip Roth Society announced               
publication of the Philip Roth Studies journal. The inaugural issue will be                 
released in fall 2004.