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Philip Roth says he is done with writing

Author Philip Roth poses for a photo in the offices of his publisher Houghton Mifflin, in New York Thursday Sept. 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

LOS ANGELES: Seminal U.S. author Philip Roth has told a French magazine that he will write no more books because he has lost his passion for it.

The author of such novels as “American Pastoral,” for which he won a Pulitzer Prize, and “Portnoy’s Complaint” slipped his retirement announcement into an interview last month with French magazine Les Inrocks.

Houghton Mifflin has now confirmed his decision. “He told me it was true,” said Lori Glazer, executive director of publicity at the publisher.

One of the world’s most revered novelists, the 79-year-old Roth explored modern Jewish-American life in his novels. A frequent contender for the Nobel Prize for literature, he said he had not written for three years.

“To tell you the truth, I’m done,” Roth was quoted as telling Les Inrocks. “‘Nemesis’ will be my last book.” His short 2010 novel is set against a fictional polio epidemic in Newark, New Jersey, in 1944.

Roth received an undergraduate degree at Bucknell University and a master’s in English Literature at the University of Chicago.

He dropped out of the Ph.D. program in 1959 to write film reviews for The New Republic.

The novella “Goodbye, Columbus” catapulted Roth onto the American literary scene in 1959 with its satirical depiction of class and religion in American life. Published along with five other short stories, it won the National Book Award in 1960. He again received that award in 1995 for “Sabbath’s Theater,” and he was the first three-time winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, in 1994, 2001 and 2007.

Roth, who has written some 25 novels, told Les Inrocks that he had always found writing difficult and that he wanted nothing more to do with reading, writing or talking about books.

He said that when he was 74, he started rereading his favorite novels by authors Ernest Hemingway, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and others, and then reread his own novels.

“I wanted to see whether I had wasted my time writing,” he explained. “After that, I decided that I was done with fiction. I no longer want to read, to write, I don’t even want to talk about it anymore.

“I have dedicated my life to the novel,” the magazine quoted him as saying. “I studied, I taught, I wrote, I read – to the exclusion of almost everything else. Enough is enough! I no longer feel this fanaticism to write that I have experienced all my life. The idea of trying to write again is impossible.”

Although his work often dealt with Judaism, Roth rejected the label of Jewish-American writer, telling Britain’s Guardian newspaper in 2005 that, “I know exactly what it means to be Jewish and it’s really not interesting. I’m an American.”

Roth’s four most recent novels, “Everyman,” “Indignation,” “The Humbling” and “Nemesis,” have been short works, often focusing on ageing, physical decline, depression and death.

New Jersey-born Roth is perhaps best known for his semiautobiographical and unreliable alter-ego Nathan Zuckerman, who has appeared in nine of his novels.

Roth told Les Inrocks that he had spent most of his time in recent years preparing material for his biographer, Blake Bailey.

“If I had a choice,” Roth was quoted as saying, “I would prefer that there is no biography written about me, but there will be biographies after my death so [I wanted] to be sure that one of them is correct.”

Roth said he had asked his literary executors and his agent to destroy his personal archives after his death once Bailey has finished the biography.

“I don’t want my personal papers hanging around everywhere.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 13, 2012, on page 16.

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