Vintage has paid tribute to Pulitzer Prize and Man Booker International Prize-winning author Philip Roth as "one the greatest American novelists of the 20th century” following his death at the age of 85.
The US novelist’s literary agent Andrew Wylie confirmed on Tuesday evening (22nd May) that Roth had died in New York City of congestive heart failure. His biographer, Blake Bailey, wrote on Twitter in the early hours of Wednesday morning: “Philip Roth died tonight, surrounded by lifelong friends who loved him dearly. A darling man and our greatest living writer."
Roth wrote more than 30 novels over 50 years, many of which have been adapted into films. He started out with the 1959 novella and short-story collection Goodbye, Columbus, which earned him the National Book Award for Fiction, and went on to explore the modern Jewish-American experience in books such as the controversial and sexually explicit Portnoy's Complaint (1968) and his Pulitzer-winning novel American Pastoral (1997) featuring the recurring character Nathan Zuckerman often described as Roth's alter ego.
Cape associate publisher Dan Franklin, who published Roth in the UK, said the novelist had "cemented his place as one the greatest American novelists of the 20th century” and was someone who knew his own mind.
© Nancy Crampton
"To my immense good fortune, I arrived at Cape just as Philip Roth was beginning the extraordinary final period of his career, producing a sequence of novels that cemented his place as one the greatest American novelists of the 20th century. It began with Sabbath’s Theater, and continued all the way through American Pastoral, I Married a Communist and The Human Stain, to Everyman and Nemesis," Franklin said.
"Publishing Roth was not hard. He controlled every aspect of his books down to the tiniest detail. I very quickly learned that there was little point in the extolling the virtues of the Cape design department; he knew what he wanted for his jackets and would not be budged."
Alluding to a biography of Roth that has been in the works for a number of years, currently scheduled to be published in October 2020, Franklin added: "Now like everyone else I am waiting for Blake Bailey’s biography, which Cape will publish when it is completed. My impression is that Roth has given Bailey months of interviews and trunkfuls of documents. The resulting biography should be extraordinary."
When Roth won the Man Booker International Prize in 2011 - at the time awarded to a single author for a body of work - his win was so divisive that one judge quit the panel in protest. Then chair of the judges Rick Gekoski said: "It is remarkable, to use a boxing metaphor, how full of ringcraft his mature fiction is ... the fierceness of the demands of a Roth novel is so potent, the quality of the intelligence and narrative gift so percipient, and the issues of such importance, that you are positively anxious to come out for the next round.”
Waterstones' fiction buyer Chris White told The Bookseller Roth was "engaged, passionate (often furious) and controversial" and "whatever you thought about him he was impossible to ignore". "I started with American Pastoral when I was 20 and was blown away," he said, adding: "He’s often lumped in with the likes of Mailer, Bellow, Updike et al but, for my money, he was better and far more interesting than any of those guys.”