Pulitzer Prize-winning author Philip Roth dies aged 85

Roth, who wrote more than 30 books, is considered to be one of America's greatest novelists 

Philip Roth (Photo: Reuters)
Philip Roth (Photo: Reuters)

One of the great American authors, Philip Roth, has died aged 85.

The Pulitzer, National Book Award and Man Booker International Prize-winning novelist explored America through the contradictions of his own character for more than six decades.

His work drew its inspiration from Jewish family life, sex, and American ideals.

His works included American Pastoral, I Married a Communist and Portnoy's Complaint.

Roth’s death was confirmed by his literary agent, Andrew Wylie, who said the author died on Tuesday night of congestive heart failure. His biographer, Blake Bailey, said on Twitter that Roth died surrounded by friends.

Roth first found success with his short story collection, Goodbye Columbus, published in 1959.

A decade later his sexually explicit novel Portnoy's Complaint catapulted him to notoriety, making him a celebrity in the US.

Writing Portnoy was easy, he told the Guardian in 2004 – but he “also became the author of Portnoy’s Complaint and what I faced publicly was the trivialisation of everything”.

In later life he wrote a number of highly regarded historical novels, including his 1997 work American Pastoral, for which he won his Pulitzer.

He wrote prolifically over the course of his career, publishing more than 30 books before ending his fiction career in 2009.

When Roth won the 2011 Man Booker International, chair of the judges Rick Gekoski said: "His career is remarkable in that he starts at such a high level, and keeps getting better. In his 50s and 60s, when most novelists are in decline, he wrote a string of novels of the highest, enduring quality."

In an interview conducted by email with the New York Times in 2018, Roth approached his encroaching mortality with a cheerful spirit, describing ageing as “easing ever deeper daily into the redoubtable Valley of the Shadow”.

“I’m very pleased that I’m still alive. Moreover, when this happens, as it has, week after week and month after month since I began drawing Social Security, it produces the illusion that this thing is just never going to end, though of course I know that it can stop on a dime. It’s something like playing a game, day in and day out, a high-stakes game that for now, even against the odds, I just keep winning,” he wrote. “We will see how long my luck holds out.”

Tributes flowed in on Twitter, with his biographer Blake Bailey calling him "a darling man" and New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul describing him as "one of our greats".

More in Books

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition

Subscribe