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What it is to be a Jew shifts with where you are


I was one Jew when I was 10, another when I was 20
Philip Roth Writer
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So I was one... one Jew when I was 10 years old and I was another Jew when I was in college at 20, which was I wasn't surrounded by... by Jews. Now it happened that two of my closest friends were Jews, were among the very small Jewish minority. Two... two fellows who helped... who along with me... founded the literary magazine. And then after college, I went off to the... University of Chicago, where there were loads of Jews, but no religious Jews that I could ever find. They were all deeply secularised. And that's what I discovered I was, too. And then I went in the Army and there were just a couple Jewish guys around. It ceased being an issue. It ceased being an issue. When I came to New York in the '60s and began to make friends here, I – this is after I'd been teaching at Princeton for a few years – I did fall in with a... a circle of Jewish fellows who I found wonderful. Smart, quick, funny, free-wheeling and they were my friends. But if you were to come to New York... if you come to New York from Omaha, you're going to find you're going to fall in with a group of Jewish guys who are smart, quick, etc. If you came here from Nome, Alaska, it's going to happen to you.

The fame of the American writer Philip Roth (1933-2018) rested on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrayed in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he wrote, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth received a great many prestigious literary awards which include a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, and the 4th Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: University of Chicago, New York

Duration: 1 minute, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013