As an academic and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Philip Roth is a force to be reckoned with among his generation’s American writers. He is without a doubt one of the most acclaimed and award-winning writers. Interestingly, unlike others who struggled to earn a place among the generation’s most illustrious writers, Roth shot to fame with his debut novel, ‘Goodbye Columbus.’ Additionally, he won a National Book Award for the same. While his novels span a variety of genres and explore a variety of facets of life and nature, one thing that unites them all and defines his writing is the presence of a strong fictional autobiographical character who explicitly defines the line between reality and fiction through his actions. While his first novella established him as a sought-after author, it was his fourth publication that solidified his place in the publishing world. He is the recipient of two National Book Awards, three PEN/Faulkner Awards, one Pulitzer Prize, and a slew of other prestigious honors. He is best known for bringing to life Nathan Zuckerman, his alter ego in a number of his novels and novellas.
Childhood & Adolescence
Philip Roth was the second child born to Bess and Herman Roth in Newark, New Jersey’s Weequahic neighborhood.
He received the majority of his education at Weequahic High School, graduating in 1950. Throughout his school years, he was well-known for his wit and humor among his classmates, colleagues, and teachers.
After completing his elementary education, he enrolled at Bucknell University to pursue a degree in English. As a result, he was admitted to the University of Chicago, where he earned an MA in English Literature.
For a brief period, he assumed the role of a writing instructor at the University of Chicago. He then enlisted in the United States Army, serving for two years.
Career of Philip
After completing his military obligations, he pursued a career in writing. Beginning with fiction and criticism for various magazines, including film reviews for The New Republic in 1959, he published his first book, ‘Goodbye Columbus and Five Short Stories,’ the following year, for which he received a National Book Award.
The enormous success of his debut novel inspired him to continue writing, and as a result, he published two additional novels, ‘Letting Go’ and ‘When She Was Good’. While the former was published in 1962, the latter did not appear until 1967, five years later.
While he had gained popularity as a writer, the big break remained a long way off. However, his fourth published novel, ‘Portnoy’s Complaint,’ eliminated all such complaints and helped him achieve widespread commercial and critical success, cementing his position as a best-selling author.
Not one to restrain his creative output, he experimented with a variety of writing genres throughout the 1970s, ranging from comedy to political satire. He published a novel titled ‘Our Gant to the Kafkaesque’. David Kepesh was the protagonist of ‘The Breast’. He was reintroduced in 1977’s ‘The Professor of Desire’ novel.
In the late 1970s, he created his alter ego, a fictional character named Nathan Zuckerman, who appeared in a number of his novels and novellas.
In the meantime, he began teaching creative writing at Iowa State University and Princeton University. He then moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught comparative literature until 1991, when he retired.
In 1995, he published ‘Sabbath’s Theatre,’ his second National Book Award-winning novel. Unlike his previous books and novels, this one features a lewd and coarse protagonist in Mickey Sabbath, a disgraced former puppeteer.
In 1997, he wrote ‘American Pastoral,’ the first installment of what would become a Zuckerman trilogy. American Pastoral, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, chronicles the life of a Newark athletic star and the tragedy that ensues when he comes to terms with the fact that his own daughter has become a domestic terrorist.
In 1998, he released the series’ second installment, ‘I Married a Communist,’ followed by ‘The Human Stain’ in 2000. While the former focused on McCarthyism, the latter on identity politics in post-1990s America.
He returned to the character of David Kepesh in 2001 for the short novel ‘The Dying Animal’. Three years later, he wrote the novel ‘The Plot Against America,’ in which he imagined an America led by Charles Lindbergh.
He then wrote his next book, ‘Everyman,’ in which he writes in flashback mode about the protagonist’s childhood, desires, illness, and impending death. He does, however, bear an uncanny resemblance to this eminent author.
In 2007, with the publication of his novel ‘Exit Ghost,’ he resurrected Nathan Zuckerman. It was his final Zuckerman novel to date.
He published his 29th and 30th books, ‘Indignation’ and ‘The Humbling’, in 2008 and 2009. While the former is set during the Korean War in 1951, the latter chronicles Simon Axler’s final performance.
In 2010, he published his 31st book, ‘Nemesis,’ completing the quartet of short novels that began with ‘Everyman,’ ‘Indignation,’ and ‘The Humbling.’
Awards and Accomplishments
He has won the National Book Award twice for his novels ‘Goodbye, Columbus’ and ‘Sabbath’s Theatre. He won the National Book Critics Circle Award for ‘The Counterlife’ in 1986 and ‘Patrimony’ in 1991.
In 1994, he received the PEN/Faulkner Award for ‘Operation Shylock.’ He won the prestigious award for ‘The Human Stain’ in 2001 and for ‘Everyman’ in 2007.
He was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for his novel ‘American Pastoral’ in 1998. He was also awarded the National Medal of Arts that year.
He was the inaugural Franz Kafka Prize laureate in 2001. He was awarded the National Book Foundation’s prestigious Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Literature in 2002.
In 2003, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Harvard University. In 2011, he was awarded the 2010 National Humanities Medal. He was also awarded the prestigious Man Booker
International Prize that year. In 2012, he was awarded the Literature Prize of Asturias. In 2013, the Republic of France elevated him to the rank of Commander of the Legion of Honor.
Personal History and Legacies
He met novelist Margaret Martinson in 1956 during his years in Chicago. Three years later, in 1959, the two were married.
The couple divorced in 1963. Martinson, however, was killed in a tragic car accident in 1968. The incident caused him great distress and left an indelible mark on his works. She served as a model for a number of his female characters.
In 1990, he renewed his marriage vows with long-term partner and English actress Claire Bloom. The union, however, did not last long, as the two parted ways in 1994.
Estimated Net Worth
Philip Roth was a novelist from the United States with a net worth of $10 million. Philip Roth was born in March 1933 in Newark, New Jersey.
He made a name for himself with his 1959 novella Goodbye, Columbus, which won him a National Book Award for Fiction in the United States. The majority of his fiction is set in Newark, New Jersey, and centers on Jewish and American identities.
According to legend, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist of ‘American Pastoral’ fame reads only works by deceased authors such as Franz Kafka or Henry James, as well as non-fiction.