Philip Roth confirms his retirement

In a final interview, 80-year-old Jewish-American author tells BBC that he has ‘nothing more’ to write about

'American Pastoral' author Philip Roth. (courtesy of Film Forum/File)
'American Pastoral' author Philip Roth. (courtesy of Film Forum/File)

Philip Roth, widely regarded as one of the greatest US novelists of his generation, has confirmed he will be retiring from writing and from the public stage during a “final” interview with the BBC.

In the two-part documentary, the first part of which will be aired on Tuesday, the reclusive author tells interviewer Alan Yentob that “this is my last appearance on television, absolutely my last appearance on stage anywhere.”

Roth stunned the literary world 18 months ago when he told French cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles he was laying down his pen.

In the interview for BBC programe “Imagine”, the 80-year-old confirmed his retirement while looking back on the events that shaped a career spanning over 50 years and 31 books.

The grandson of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe, Roth grew up in Newark, New Jersey, and his own life and Jewish background were constant sources of material for his fiction.

After limited success with 1959 novella “Goodbye, Columbus”, he hit stardom in 1969 with “Portnoy’s Complaint,” a sexually explicit comedy about a young Jewish-American obsessed by masturbation and his mother.

During the interview, extracts of which were released by the BBC, Roth said that a comment made in 2004, in which he insisted he could not live without writing, had been misguided.

“I was wrong,” he told former BBC One chief Yentob. “I had reached the end. There was nothing more for me to write about.

“I set out upon the great task of doing nothing. I’ve had a very good time over the last three or four years. Now that I don’t write, I just want to chatter away.”

Quoting legendary American boxer Joe Louis, Roth said he had “done the best he could with what he had”.

The interview took place in Newark, and examines the influence of the neighborhood on his work.

Commenting on the scandal surrounding the release of “Portnoy’s Complaint,” Roth said he “was very curious as a writer as to how far I could go” and to see “what happens if you go further.”

He also discussed the importance of his time in communist Prague during the 1970s, and of a spell living in Israel.

The writer focused particularly on the impact of the 1986 trial of John Demjanjuk, a Cleveland autoworker from Ukraine who was accused of being Ivan Marchenko, a notorious guard at the Treblinka extermination camp during World War II.

He was initially sentenced to death, but the conviction was overturned due to lack of evidence.

In his later years, Roth has lived a secluded life in the Connecticut countryside, which he described as a “very congenial” place to live and work.

“If I’m stuck, I walk out the door,” he told Yentob. “I walk around for 10 minutes then come back and I’m away”.

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