Philip Roth was an American novelist, short-story writer, and essayist. He was considered one of the most influential American writers of the 20th century. Philip Roth is known for his exploration of Jewish-American identity and the complexities of human nature.
Some of his most famous books include Portnoy's Complaint (1969), American Pastoral (1997), and The Counterlife (1986). Roth won many significant literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
In 1998 Philip Roth was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Philip Roth was born in New Jersey to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father, Herman Roth, was an insurance salesman, and his mother, Bess Finkel Roth, was a housewife. Roth grew up in a lower-middle-class Jewish neighborhood and attended Newark public schools.
Roth's high school education was at Newark's Weequahic High School. After graduation, he studied at Bucknell University, a small liberal arts college in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where Philip received a bachelor's degree in English in 1954. He then continued his education at the University of Chicago, where Roth received a master's degree in English in 1955.
While in college and graduate school, Roth began writing fiction and submitted his work to various magazines. His first short story, The Defender of the Faith, was published in the New Yorker in 1955. After completing his studies, Roth worked as a teacher, an army clerk, and an editor while continuing to write fiction in his free time.
Philip Roth wrote about controversial subjects such as sexuality, personal and cultural identity, and the artist's role. He penned in a realistic and often autobiographical style, frequently drawing on his experiences and the cultural environment of his upbringing in New Jersey.
He gained early literary fame with the 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus (winner of the 1960s National Book Award). The book consists of five short stories and a novella of the same name.
The novella tells the story of a summer romance between a young man from Newark and a Jewish girl from the suburbs.
The book was well-received critically and commercially. It established Roth as a new voice in American literature. The success of Goodbye, Columbus brought Roth widespread recognition.
It was also the beginning of a bibliography exploring the complexities of Jewish-American identity and human experience, which would become a significant theme throughout his career.
He has continued to write critically-acclaimed works, many of which feature his recurrent alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The fictional character appears as the narrator or protagonist in nine of Roth's novels.
The Zuckerman novels began with The Ghost Writer in 1979 and ended with Exit Ghost in 2007. It also includes the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral (1997).
In May 2011, Philip Roth won the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement in fiction.
Some of the novelist's most notable awards include PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 1995 for his 1994 novel Operation Shylock, The Ambassador Book Award for Fiction in 1990 for Deception, The National Medal of Arts in 1998, and The National Humanities Medal in 2011.
Philip Roth passed away at 85, due to congestive heart failure, at a hospital in Manhattan.
"In the course of a very long career, Mr. Roth took on many guises — mainly versions of himself — in the exploration of what it means to be an American, a Jew, a writer, a man. He was a champion of Eastern European novelists like Ivan Klima and Bruno Schulz, and also a passionate student of American history and the American vernacular. And more than just about any other writer of his time, he was tireless in his exploration of male sexuality," says The New York Times in an obituary.