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Portnoy's Complaint


How I wrote Portnoy’s Complaint
Philip Roth Writer
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The first story was called: A Jewish Patient Begins His Analysis, and that was in Esquire Magazine and it turned out to be the opening chapter of Portnoy's Complaint. I then wrote a... a story which continued that first one called: Whacking Off, and it appeared in of all places, the Partisan Review, which was the... the Mecca of modernism here in America, and that got a tremendous response with people. I mean, Partisan Review has a very small audience but that small audience is located in New York. And it dawned on me that I should keep going. And so I wrote chapter after chapter of this book about a patient in analysis, who was Portnoy, and I'd never done anything like this before or after. I... as I finished a section of the book I gave it out to a magazine, the magazine in question was called The New American Review and the editor was one of my close friends, a guy called Ted Solotaroff, he and I had been in graduate school together. And as soon as I wrote it, Ted published it, and the book began… these stories began to get a huge following, and so… and the stories eventually became the whole book which was Portnoy's Complaint, and Portnoy's Complaint was published in February, I think, 1969, I was 36, and it was a sensation. Nothing like that had ever happened… has ever happened to me since, and... nothing remotely like that, and certainly nothing... nothing had happened... like that before. And I'd say that there are a very few writers who've had such an experience in America in my time.

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: Esquire Magazine, Whacking Off, Partisan Review, The New American Review, Ted Solotaroff

Duration: 2 minutes, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013