Philip Roth’s Retirement In The Spotlight: The Humbling and American Pastoral


Philip Roth 2014 / Getty


American novelist Philip Roth may have announced his retirement a few years back, but his declaration that he is putting down his pen has been accompanied by surge of interest in the author’s work, including the documentaries “Philip Roth Unmasked, ” featured on PBS in 2013 and the two-part “Philip Roth Unleashed, ” which aired on the BBC this spring. Two upcoming films adapted from his novels, The Humbling and American Pastoral are expected to hit the silver screen.

In 2011, Barry Levinson decided that he would team up with Al Pacino yet again following their successful collaborations on the Emmy award-winning You Don’t Know Jack, about Jack Kervorkian and the series of films Gotti: Three Generations. The two have been working on Philip Roth’s The Humbling, which is financed by Avi Lerner’s Millennium Films/Nu Image. Al Pacino plays an aging actor who feels he is “losing his magic, ” and has a complicated relationship with a younger woman played by Greta Gerwig. Other cast members include: Dianne Weist, Charles Grodin, Kyra Sedgewick, Dan Hedaya, Nina Arianda, and Billy Porter.

Filming began in March for the adaption of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, American Pastoral, a story about the fair-haired former high school athlete Seymour “Swede” Levov, hailing from a tightly-knit Jewish community in Newark, whose life dissolves following a horrific tragedy involving his unstable daugter, Merry.  Ewan McGregor stars as Swede Levov, whose life his friend, the novelist Nathan Zuckerman, struggles to figure out, until he famously declares, “The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong.” The film adaption of American Pastoral is produced by Lakeshore Entertainment, which also underwrote two previous film versions of Roth’s novels: Elegy in 2008 and The Human Stain in 2003.

There may be no new novels from Philip Roth, who is declared to be the greatest living American writer, and who has one almost every literary award aside from the Nobel Prize. However, he has been in the spotlight consistently in the nearly two years since he announced his retirement, with documentaries, interviews and awards, including the honor of receiving the first Yaddo medal and an honorary doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Claudia Roth Pierpont (no relation) recently wrote a retrospective on Philip Roth’s work titled Philip Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books. Many thought that his declaration that he would not give additional public readings meant that he would not make public appearances, yet he is scheduled to be interviewed by Stephen Colbert in July as part of the” cOlbert’s Book Club” with the capitalized “O” as an allusion to Oprah’s famous Book Club.

Roth’s main project post-retirement is assisting his biographer, Blake Bailey, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his biography on the writer John Cheever. Bailey told the BBC: “He has supplied me with literally thousands of pages of typed notes that are addressed directly to me. He has turned over all his personal papers to meit will take me years to excavate them.”



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