One of the most awarded American authors of his generation, Philip Roth created some of the most provocative novels exploring American identity through a masterful blending of realism and fiction. Born in Newark, New Jersey on March 19, 1933 Roth attended Bucknell University and later earned a master’s degree in literature from the University of Chicago. He gained attention with his first novella, Goodbye, Columbus, which won the National Book Award in 1960.
Published by Houghton Mifflin in 1959, Goodbye, Columbus was accompanied by five other short stories that ranged in tone from the iconoclastic to the astonishingly tender, illuminating the subterranean conflicts between parents and children and friends and neighbors in the American Jewish diaspora. Saul Bellow wrote upon review of Goodbye, Columbus, “Unlike those of us who come howling into the world, blind and bare, Mr. Roth appears with nails, hair, teeth, speaking coherently. He is skilled, witty, energetic and performs like a virtuoso.”
Roth’s most controversial novel, widely considered to be his masterpiece, Portnoy’s Complaint was published a year later in 1960. Along with Saul Bellow’s Herzog, the book has come to define Jewish American literature in the 1960s. “Roth’s masterpiece takes place on the couch of a psychoanalyst, an appropriate jumping-off place for an insanely comical novel about the Jewish American experience” (Stanley Edgar Hyman). The novel turned Roth into a celebrity; overriding themes of sexual desire and frustration told through comedic and often shockingly coarse language came to be trademarks of his work.
Roth experimented with various styles of writing throughout the following decades, publishing a series of nine novels featuring the semi-autobiographical character Nathan Zuckerman including My Life as a Man, The Ghost Writer, The Anatomy Lesson, American Pastoral, I Married A Communist, The Human Stain, and Exit Ghost. The
Published in 1997 and Roth’s 22nd book, American Pastoral won the Pulitzer Prize with its thoughtful investigation of 1960’s America. Told through the voice of Roth’s signature alter-ego, it conveyed the tale of Seymour “the Swede” Levov, a high-school sports hero whose daughter, Merry, commits an unpardonable act of “protest” against the Vietnam war that ultimately severs him from any hope of happiness, family, or spiritual coherence.
The ninth novel featuring Nathan Zuckerman as its protagonist, The Human Stain won the 2001 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction. The New York Times said of the work which was adapted into the motion picture of the same name starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, “In terms of sheer productivity, brilliance, distinctly American diction, philosophical rage, comic irritability, dramatic representations of solitude, uniqueness of voice and unwavering repugnance toward heterosexual convention, it is difficult to think of a contemporary artist with whom Philip Roth might even be compared.”
Throughout the course of his literary career, Roth won America’s four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony (1991), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock (1993), the National Book Award for Sabbath’s Theater (1995), and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist (1998); in the same year he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House.
In addition to the items featured above, browse the many first editions written by Philip Roth currently in our collection here.