Philip Roth, one of the most celebrated United States novelists of the second half of the twentieth century, died on Tuesday. He said the cause was congestive heart failure. I'm stunned and speechless. Roth was known for work that was amusing, often gross, and deeply connected to his Jewish roots.
The 1969 novel "Portnoy's Complaint" rocketed him to fame for its raunchy, hilarious depiction of a teenage boy's lustful urges and ensuing guilt. He was best known for mining the Jewish-American experience, saying "I don't write Jewish, I write American".
He long managed to sustain his literary output both in terms of quality as well as quantity, as exemplified by his widely admired political trilogy that included "American Pastoral", "I Married a Communist" (1998) and "The Human Stain" (2000).
Although Roth is often considered as one of the biggest literary figures never to win a Noble Prize, he received many major literary honors, including two U.S. National Book Awards, one Pulitzer Prize and one Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement. Roth would later focus more deeply on Jewish life, mortality, and American history, often setting his novels in Newark, New Jersey, where Roth grew up.
"I decided that I was done with fiction", he said. After my first interview with him - the first of many, including for the two documentaries I made about him - we became very close.
"I wanted to see if I had wasted my time writing", Roth said. Another Philip Roth will be hard to come by. "And more than just about any other writer of his time he was tireless in his exploration of male sexuality".