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Further education: the trial of Ivan the Terrible


My rejected play about Gans
Philip Roth Writer
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I wrote this play for television. I met a television producer back then in 1959, a guy by the name of Robert Alan Arthur – who's now dead. And Bob was the producer of, I think it was Playhouse 90 it was called. And he commissioned me as it were, to write this play after I told him about it. So I did – and this is before the Hannah Arendt book – and the network turned it down. They were correct to turn it down. Not… let's assume the play was good, it probably wasn't, but let's assume it was good. The fury it would have aroused in Jewish viewers would have been enormous. So to present a Jew as the one who's doing the selection for the Nazis, but it was just that moral horror that excited my imagination.

Then I went out to teach at the University of Iowa in 1960 – in the writers' workshop – and I had a friend named Howard Stein out there. Howard was in the drama department and I told him about the play and he read it and he said, 'let my students read it, and do a reading', his drama students. So they did. I don't remember anything about it, but I remember that my engagement with the horror – the holocaust – was of course tremendous. In the writing... writing about this, in writing this play and thinking about it and reading the material for it. So that was my education, it was a kind of self-education.

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: Robert Alan Arthur, University of Iowa, Robert Alan Arthur, Hannah Arendt book, Howard Stein

Duration: 1 minute, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013