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Assessing the power of sex words


Sex in literature
Philip Roth Writer
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I'm interested in sex, and have always been. Beginning when I was a young adolescent and I discovered sex. I didn't know much about it but I... I was, like most of the young adolescent boys I knew, I was terrifically engaged by the idea of it, even if I couldn't actually practice it. And I've... I... I look back on my own sexual life with women with terrific gratitude. Some of the happiest and most intense moments of my life are associated with sex or sex play, serious sexual activity. So I have had reason to think about it. And thought early on, I guess, why shouldn't it be in literature, in fiction, in a novel? I'm not the first person to... to think that, but in the 20th century, writers were given permission that they never had before to write about sex, beginning perhaps with Henry Miller in America, DH Lawrence in England, you could be open and graphic.

Now, you're not just open and graphic, you're trying to write a work of fiction so you're not advertising those moments, but sex should be integral to the story you're telling.

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: Henry Miller, DH Lawrence

Duration: 2 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013