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Roth and the Publishing Industry

This morning Dalya Alberge’s story about my forthcoming book The Philip Roth We Don’t Know: Sex, Race and Autobiography came out in The Guardian. First, let me thank Ms. Alberge for writing this article and prompting me to drill down on these questions.

One of the issues that came up in our discussions was the fact that there are two interlocking analytical components to this story. One has to do with Roth himself. Sure, he played the game-- and there’s nothing wrong with that! All artists hustle and I believe (and Roth, I think, would concur) that the hustle is part of the creative process.

Though remember: Roth published more than a dozen metafictional and autofictional novels about writers (many of whom resembled Roth). Save one allusion in The Ghost Writer, I can’t think of a single scene in which the protagonist system games, networks, scratches back, etc.

I find it intriguing that Roth never depicted this aspect of the writer’s craft. For a writer obsessed with what I call “Art/Life Loops,” it’s odd that this component of his life never seeped into his art.

The second issue is much more serious. It has to do with key figures in the publishing industry who aided and abetted Roth’s careers in ways that: 1) would make an ombudsman at their institutions have a seizure, and, 2) would likely really piss off other writers of quality who were never the beneficiaries of comparable largesse. To my mind, this story raises more questions about how the literary publishing industry “works,” than it does about Roth’s art.

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