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The University of Chicago and the army


Philip Roth Writer
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I was eager… by the time I got to be 16, 17… I graduated high school when I was 16, I wanted to get out of the neighborhood. I'd loved the neighborhood, I had lots of good friends but I was at that point being oppressed by my father's response to my growing independence. He was very anxious for me when I began to go out in the evening and he didn't know where I was and eventually we had a tremendous argument and I felt that if I stayed at home any longer I would kill him. And so I... I went off to college, and I went to a small college in Pennsylvania on the Susquehanna river, called Bucknell University, and in those days it was quite small, and amazingly, because it was a… at that... at that point in time, a mediocre school, but amazingly and luckily, there was a very strong English department and I got a very good, vigorous English education. I read a lot, had to write a lot and had some very excellent teachers, some of whom I remained friends with for the rest of their lives. They died 20, 25 years ago.

At the school… there were virtually no Jews in this school. It was the first time I was in a non-Jewish environment with kids who weren't... who weren't Jews. I think growing up in the neighborhood and in growing up in my high school, I maybe knew two or three non-Jewish kids. Now I was one of the two or three Jews and then there was the rest of the school which were… the kids were largely middle class Christian kids from small towns in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.

I began to come into my own in college and I began to… I edited a literary magazine. I acted in plays and I did other things, above all, I studied, I was studious.

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: Bucknell University, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania

Duration: 2 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013