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American literature
Philip Roth Writer
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Which American writers did I begin reading early on?  Those would be 19th century writers.  Melville [Herman Melville] and Moby Dick and some of the brilliant shorter things like Benito Cereno and Bartleby, the Scrivener and so on.  I was... I was mystified by that book; its plenteousness was new to me when I read it.  I read Hawthorne [Nathaniel Hawthorne] and have read Hawthorne as an adult.  Of course, I have taught a couple Hawthorne books, The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.  And I'm put off by something in the... in the diction, in the language, in the syntax that makes it semi-impenetrable to me.  Mark Twain I thought was wonderful.  I read Huckleberry Finn maybe every 10 years, and it's a stupendous book, and then as a figure, he's a stupendous... he's a stupendous figure.  Then I... when I was in graduate school I was very taken by Henry James.  I haven't read James in 30 years probably.  But back in the 1950s I... I took a course in Henry James and I was... and I was hooked.  It was... look, all this stuff was new to me then, so I could be hooked by Henry James and I could be hooked by Mark Twain.  Who... what two writers could be more different? 

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: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Henry James

Duration: 1 minute, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013