When the movie, “Goodbye, Columbus” burst onto the movie screens in 1969, it not only catapulted an unknown actress by the name of Ali MacGraw to stardom, it elevated a promising young author into the ranks of the country’s up-and-coming novelists. Thirty-five years later, Philip Roth continues to be regarded as one of America’s most acclaimed, outspoken, and frequently controversial, authors.
Published in 1959 when Roth was only 26, Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories won the National Book Award — an astonishing accomplishment for a debut work. A coming-of-age story describing an ill-fated love affair, the novella and its attendant short stories featuring Jewish characters quickly challenged the purveying cultural perceptions about Jews and American society in the post-World War II-era. In the ensuing decades, Roth would return to these themes again and again, submitting them to his unique brand of satire and investigation.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1933, Roth’s memories of growing up during the Depression in a first-generation Jewish community influenced his work, often to the point of autobiography that would leave readers wondering just what was fact and what was fiction. Nowhere is this more evident than in Roth’s trilogy featuring Nathan Zuckerman (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, and The Anatomy Lesson, with an epilogue, The Prague Orgy). Throughout the trilogy, details about Zuckerman’s life bear uncanny resemblance to Roth’s own — from place of origin to choice of career to how the fictional (and presumably factual) authors deal with fame and fortune.
Roth frequently engages in social satire, as in 1971’s Our Gang. Featuring an American president named Trick E. Dixon, the novel was a thinly-veiled invective against the Nixon Administration — presciently, in the days prior to the Watergate scandal. That was followed by the Kafkaesque The Breast and The Great American Novel, about an erstwhile baseball league, the Patriot, and its colorful roster of teams.
Roth returned to his Jewish roots in 1977 with the publication of American Pastoral, a novel about a successful Jewish businessman whose daughter engages in a Patty Hearst-like act of political terrorism. And Roth once again indulged in some overt autobiography with I Married a Communist in 1998, a novel thought to be written in response to a scathing memoir (Leaving a Doll’s House) written by his ex-wife, actress Claire Bloom.
With his most recent publication, The Plot Against America, Roth’s penchants for autobiography and social commentary coalesce in the novel’s dynamic premise: what if popular aviator, Charles Lindbergh, had opposed FDR in the 1940 presidential race — and won? Reputedly a Nazi sympathizer, Lindbergh’s administrative policies profoundly affect the nominative, but fictional, Roth family of Newark, New Jersey. Critics are calling this “arguably Roth’s best work” — a more than fitting accolade for one of America’s most prolific and profound authors.
Writings by Philip Roth
Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories (1959) *
Letting Go (1962) *
When She Was Good (1967) *
Portnoy’s Complaint (1969)
Our Gang (Starring Tricky and His Friends) (1971) *
The Breast (1972) *
The Great American Novel (1973)
My Life As a Man (1974)
Reading Myself and Others (nonfiction) (1975) *
The Professor of Desire (1977) *
The Ghost Writer (1979)
A Philip Roth Reader (1980) *
Zuckerman Unbound (1981)
The Anatomy Lesson (1983) *
Zuckerman Bound (1985)
The Counterlife (1986) *
The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography (1988) *
Patrimony: A True Story (1991) 813.54 ROT
Operation Shylock: A Confession (1993) *
Sabbath’s Theater (1995)
American Pastoral (1997)
I Married a Communist (1998)
The Human Stain (2000)
The Dying Animal (2001)
Shop Talk: A Writer and His Colleagues and Their Work (2001) 809.045 ROT
The Plot Against America (2004)
* Please request at the Adult Information Services Desk.
Awards and Prizes
Pulitzer Prize, 1997 for American Pastoral
National Medal of Arts, 1998
American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal in Fiction, 2002
Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union 1998 for
I Married a Communist
National Book Award for Fiction, 1959 for Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories
National Book Award for Fiction, 1995 for Sabbath’s Theater
PEN/Faulkner Award 2000 for The Human Stain
PEN/Faulkner Award 1993 for Operation Shylock
National Book Critics Circle Award, 1991 for Patrimony
National Book Critics Circle Award, 1986 for The Counterlife
In 2005, Roth will become the third living American writer to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America.