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Becoming a writer: my first taste of adulthood


The University of Chicago and the army
Philip Roth Writer
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After Bucknell, I went for a year to the University of Chicago, in 1954 to '55, where I was a graduate student in English and got a master's degree. That was the right place for me to go to, I enjoyed it. I developed a real affection for the place, the neighborhood, Hyde Park, and for the university, and I made some dazzlingly smart friends. From Chicago I went into the army. The draft… the Korean War draft was still on then. The Korean War had ended in '53 I think, but in '55 the draft was still on.

I went into the army and I went in for two years and I got injured in basic training. I injured my back rather severely and by the end of the year I was in the hospital and then from the hospital I was discharged. So I spent a year in the... in the army. The injury… the back injury it turned out to be a bit of a plague for the rest of my life and I've had to put up with pain from time to time. Back in the year 2003, I had surgery on my back and then about three years later I had a second back operation. And all of that is traced back to that injury.

When I was in graduate school and in the army, I began to write stories. I had written some stories in college but they were... they were terrible and… they were highly sensitive and very terrible. But now I began to write different kinds of stories. And in the army I was in the public information office in Washington and there was... there was a typewriter in the office and so at night after dinner I'd come back into the office and I began to write these stories, and some of them were stories that wound up in Goodbye Columbus, my first book.


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, University of Chicago, Goodbye Columbus

Duration: 2 minutes, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013