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Finding a voice - and using what I knew


Writing from my own experience
Philip Roth Writer
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I'd written some stories in college that were very poor of course, and… but they didn't have a Jew in them. They didn't have Newark in them. They didn't have anything in them that I know anything about. But I didn't see how I could make literature out of these Jews, you know. And so I… I don't know if I've put it in one sentence, but it occurred to me at a certain point, that I can use the guy next door to us, who was an adulterer, who owned a soda water company, and I wrote a story called Epstein about this guy. And then someone told me a story about a kid tried... threatening the Rabbi to jump off the roof, and so I wrote it. My good friend Arthur Geffen told that to me, and a mate of mine at Chicago, and I said to Arthur, I'll give you five years to write it and if you don't write it, I'll write it. I didn't give him five actually. I wrote this book, the story called The Conversion of the Jews. And now I was beginning… these are not great stories these first stories, but I was hitting my stride, you know. I was… I found that I could use what I knew and I just had to find a way of speaking, I had to find a voice and that you find slowly, with effort.

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: Newark, Epstein, The Conversion of the Jews, Arthur Geffen

Duration: 1 minute, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013