a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


How writers work


My father wanted me to be a lawyer
Philip Roth Writer
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

I don't think my father was happy about my deciding to become a college professor. In fact I know he wasn't. Because he never said… after this fight we had, he never said anything to me about… anything to me that registered disapproval, you know. But I had a… my brother had a friend who was a very smart guy, he was a lawyer, just become a lawyer, and my father took him aside and said, 'Clive talk to him about this college professor, he'll starve', my father said, 'He'll starve'. And he thought well Clive could convince me to become a lawyer. And so Clive and I sat in my bedroom one day and Clive began to tell me what he wanted to tell me, and I said, 'That's it, that's enough, that's it', I'd won, you know what I mean. I'm not going to fight the fight again, that's enough, and he just... he just left the room and that was that.

And then my father swallowed whatever doubts he had. If you think it was… I was going to starve as a college professor, imagine what was going to happen to me as a writer. And I'm sure he bitched to my mother about it in some way, he didn't bitch to me. I... that event, the fight, had a winner and a loser and he lost.

[Q] You knew you weren't going to starve at least for a few months?

That's right. You know, I didn't worry about starving. Of course I didn't want to starve, but I didn't take it seriously. I... I thought that I could live on nothing. I thought, so long as I was on my own, without any responsibilities to anybody else, I could live on virtually nothing. And that I could live on $100 a month, in 1958. And that was cutting it close, but it was... it was doable, it was doable, just. And I didn't worry about after that, I just… maybe I was stupid. I don't know what it was, but I didn't… I wasn't concerned about money. I wasn't concerned about money. Not that there was anybody behind me to prop me up. I was young, I was healthy, I was smart... let's see.

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: father, lawyer, college professor, disapproval, money, starving

Duration: 3 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013