A New Jersey native, Philip Roth was born in Newark in 1933 to middle class parents whose ancestors were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. While Roth and his brother enjoyed their childhood with close friends and relatives, they experienced anti-Semitic prejudice. Roth's Jewish background influenced his writing: many of his short stories and novels have Jewish themes and characters. He is both proud and critical of his background. He went to the local high school in his Newark neighborhood, attended Rutgers/ Newark for a brief time and graduated with a B.A. in English from Bucknell University, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa. In 1955, he earned an M.A. in English from the University of Chicago. He served in the U.S. Army for two years but was honorably discharged due to a back injury. He then returned to the University of Chicago for two years as an instructor of English. He worked for the "New Republic" for a brief time, and in 1959 published "Goodbye, Columbus." This book, and the title novella were well received, but with its satirical treatment of certain aspects of American Jewish culture, also received harsh criticism. The title story was made into a movie in 1969. Roth earned a National Book Award as well as other awards for "Goodbye Columbus." It was apparent to critics that Roth was a skilled and talented young writer, who showed great promise. Roth published "Letting Go" in 1962 and "When She Was Good" in 1967. While praised by some, the majority of critics were not impressed by these novels. Roth went through a difficult period but kept writing and teaching ( at the University of Pennsylvania). In 1969 he published " Portnoy's Complaint," a novel that was both highly praised and vilified. Some considered the novel a masterpiece, while others thought it obscene, even anti-Semitic. In 1970, Roth was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
Roth continued to publish throughout the 1970's and 80's. "My Life as a Man" which Roth published in 1974 was well received. Many critics regard this novel as Roth's best work. Roth kept writing throughout the 1990's: "Deception", in 1990 and "Patrimony" a sympathetic account of his father, Herman Roth, a hardworking man who died in 1989. Other books followed. In 1997 he wrote "American Pastoral", the first book in a trilogy. Roth won the Pulitzer Prize and much praise for this book. Growing older did not stop Roth. He kept writing: "The Dying Animal," "Everyman," "The Human Stain," and "Indignation." This list is not complete. Roth's output over the years shows his dedication to his art and his self discipline. He once told an interviewer that he works sometimes seven days a week, six to ten hours a day.
Over the years, Roth has consented to numerous interviews to discuss his work. He does not like to talk about private matters. These interviews can be found on Youtube and show a thoughtful man, well spoken, intelligent with a hint of humor. Married twice, once to the actress, Claire Bloom, Roth lives alone most of the year on his forty acre farm in Connecticut, writing in his comfortable studio near his home.