Famed American novelist Philip Roth was born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey. Roth graduated from Bucknell University in 1954. In 1959, he won the National Book Award for Goodbye, Columbus. Roth had his first best-seller with 1969's Portnoy's Complaint. Over the years, he has earned many accolades for his work, including a second National Book Award for 1995's Sabbath's Theatre and a Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. His later works include Everyman (2006) and Nemesis (2010).
Born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey, Philip Roth is considered one of the leading authors of the 20th century. He is best known for his provocative explorations of Jewish and American identity, often focusing on sexual and familial love and mortality. He is considered by many critics to be a literary troublemaker, graphically exploring uncomfortable cultural and familial issues.
Roth grew up with his older brother, Sandy, in a Jewish, middle-class family. Roth began his literary career in college. After briefly attending Rutgers University, Roth went on to Bucknell University, where he started up a magazine called Et Cetera. Some of his early short stories were featured in the publication.
After graduating in 1954, Roth spent some time in the U.S. Army. Even as a soldier, he continued to write. He later attended University of Chicago, where he earned a master's degree in English literature. Proving to be a controversial writer early on, Roth angered a number of Jewish readers with the story "Defender of the Faith," published in The New Yorker in 1957. "I was suddenly being assailed as an anti-Semite, this thing that I had detested all my life, and a self-hating Jew," Roth later explained to The New York Times.
In 1959, Roth became one of the rising stars of American fiction with the publication of Goodbye, Columbus. This work won the National Book Award and was later turned into a feature film starring Richard Benjamin. Nearly a decade later, Roth found himself immersed in a sea of controversy over his novel Portnoy's Complaint (1969). The book was considered scandalous by some for its depiction of masturbation. "Portnoy was blunt about sex," Roth explained to People magazine. Portnoy's Complaint became a huge commercial hit.
By the end of the 1970s, Roth had begun writing works that featured his literary alter ego, writer Nathan Zuckerman. This character first appeared in The Ghost Writer (1979) and recurred in such works as Zuckerman Unbound (1981) and The Anatomy Lesson. While there may be some commonality between Roth and Zuckerman, Roth has insisted that his novels are not autobiographical. He told The Nation that readers who only see his life in his works "are simply numb to fiction—numb to impersonation, to ventriloquism, to irony, numb to the thousand observations of human life on which a book is built."
Roth won the National Book Award again for Sabbath's Theatre in 1995. The story revolves around Mickey Sabbath, a former puppeteer, who starts to unravel after the death of one of his lovers. Three years later, Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for American Pastoral (1997). This novel, part of a trilogy that also includes I Married a Communist (1998) and The Human Stain (2000), brings back Nathan Zuckerman to help tell the story of Jewish businessman Seymour "Swede" Levov.
In all, Roth has produced more than 30 books during his career. His most recent titles include Everyman (2006) and Nemesis (2010). He announced that he was retiring from writing in 2012, but it is difficult to believe that this great man of letters will stay away from the printed word forever.
Known for being a bit of recluse, Roth spends much of his time at his Warren, Connecticut, home. He has been married twice. In 1959, Roth married Margaret Martinson. The pair were estranged, but not divorced before her death in a car accident in 1968. He later married actress Claire Bloom. The pair separated around 1993 and divorced two years later. She wrote about their relationship in her memoir, Leaving a Doll's House.
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