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Writing about sex in American Pastoral


Sex: how to handle this dynamite
Philip Roth Writer
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Well, I don't know if I'm good at it. I do it. It seemed to me native material. It didn't seem to me outlandish. Let it in, I thought. Let it in. Deal with it, and learn how to deal with it. To go back... to repeat what I said earlier, I think that my generation of writers had to learn to handle this dynamite. And one of my colleagues was a master at it, that was John Updike. Updike in... especially in the Rabbit books... in Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, he's... he's wonderful. Writers like [Saul] Bellow stayed away from it. There are a few sexual moments in Bellow's books and needless to say, they're masterfully done. But he... he stayed away from it. He was... he was that much older than us, Saul was 12, 15 years older, came of age in the '30s rather than in the '50s. I don't know about young writers now. I don't... don't read very much contemporary fiction. But I do know that it was something that one had to think about, you know.

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: Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit at Rest, John Updike, Saul Bellow

Duration: 1 minute, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013