Published: Sat, May 26, 2018
Culture&Arts | By Merle Christensen

Philip Roth, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author, Dies at 85

Philip Roth, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author, Dies at 85

Finally tonight, we remember the prolific writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Philip Roth.

Being snubbed for the Nobel every year had "become a joke" for the author, said his friend, French writer Josyane Savigneau. Though much of his work explored the Jewish American experience, he bristled at being categorized.

Early in his career, Roth drew outrage with sometimes stinging depictions of Jewish life, as well as his graphic portrayal in his breakout 1969 novel Portnoy's Complaint of the protagonist's sexual desires.

Philip Milton Roth was born March 19, 1933 in Newark, New Jersey, the grandson of European Jews who were part of the 19th Century wave of immigration to the United States.

During a particularly fruitful period in his 60s, Roth returned to a number of those themes.

"The novel is Roth's attempt to understand the chaos and madness of the 1960s and their lasting effects on the American psyche", says Esquire.

In a moment, William Brangham talks with a colleague and collaborator of Roth's.

Roth began his career in 1959 with the novel "Goodbye, Columbus".

Here are some excerpts.

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Before announcing his retirement in 2012, he received numerous literary accolades including the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle award. In an interview with the New York Times (paywall) earlier this year, Roth denied the parallels between Lindbergh and Trump due to their "difference in stature".

"I decided that I was done with fiction", he said.

Roth's personal life was just as colorful as his professional one.

In 2011 Barack Obama presented the National Humanities Medal to Roth during a ceremony at the White House. A memorial is being planned in NY, possibly in September, his biographer Blake Bailey said. Nine of his novels featured his fictional alter-ego, Nathan Zuckerman (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, Exit Ghost), exploring nearly every facet of his identity, from being Jewish to being a writer and a man.

Roth, in his books, poked fun at the wrath he incurred from some in the Jewish community.

Jacques Berlinerblau, a professor of Jewish civilization at Georgetown University who has taught Roth texts for 25 years, said the literary giant understood that "America is given to paroxysms of craziness".

Following the death of several friends and contemporaries (including Saul Bellow in 2005), Roth wrote a sequence of short fictions-focusing on old age and physical deterioration-the first of which was Everyman (2006) which won him his third PEN/Faulkner Award.

Bailey said Roth called Ronald Reagan, venerated by today's Republican Party, "a president with the soul of a soap opera grandmother and the intelligence of a high school senior in a June Allyson musical".

The topics Roth wrote about included the Jewish experience in America, promiscuous male sexuality, and the hypocrisy and disillusionment of American political life since the 1940s.

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