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School is a wonderful invention


Early days
Philip Roth Writer
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I was born in 1933, at the height of the Depression. I was born in the very same month that FDR became president, and remained president for the next 12 years. And my father was not a big wage-earner; he was working, luckily, for the Metropolitan Life Insurance company as an insurance agent, as a salesman, and he probably made about $80 a week, which… even at that time it wasn't much. But I didn't know it; I didn't know that we were poor. My mother was a tremendous organiser of... of our household, of our finances, of our clothing and our health, and she was... she was remarkable, really. And so the orderliness of the household made a big impression on me as a kid, and helped to convince me that we weren't poor.

We lived in a nice flat — in those days apartments were called flats — and in a two-and-a-half-family house. A two-and-a-half-family house was a house that had a three-room apartment at the top and two five-room apartments below, on the first and second floor. So there was room enough for all of us; it wasn't huge, but it was comfortable. I was happy; I... I think I… my moods ranged from general contentment to extreme happiness, and particularly happy when I discovered school.

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: Franklin D Roosevelt

Duration: 2 minutes, 5 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013