Philip Roth Biography

Academic, Author (1933–2018)
American novelist and short-story writer Philip Roth was best known for his provocative explorations of Jewish and American identity.

Who Was Philip Roth?

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). Roth died on May 22, 2018 at the age of 85.


Roth died at a Manhattan hospital from congestive heart failure on May 22, 2018, according to the New York Times who spoke to one of his close friends. Roth was 85.

Famous Works

'Goodbye, Columbus,' 'Portnoy's Complaint'

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.

'The Ghost Writer,' 'The Anatomy Lesson'

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."

'Sabbath's Theatre' 

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. 

'American Pastoral,' 'I Married a Communist,' 'The Human Stain'

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.

'Everyman,' 'Nemesis'

In all, Roth produced more than 30 books during his career. His most recent titles included Everyman (2006) and Nemesis (2010). He announced that he was retiring from writing in 2012.

Personal Life

Known for being a bit of recluse, Roth spent much of his time at his Warren, Connecticut, home. He had 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.

Early Life

Born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey, Philip Roth was considered one of the leading authors of the 20th century. He was best known for his provocative explorations of Jewish and American identity, often focusing on sexual and familial love and mortality. He was 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.

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