36 Famous Writers on Philip Roth’s Retirement


In the course of creating our list of New York’s 100 Most Important Living Writers, we reached out to a few of said figures to ask them a couple questions, including the query of the hour: “How do you feel about Philip Roth retiring?” We got a lot of responses — some quippy, some heartfelt, some sad, some glad (it’s true), and more than one with a theory on Roth’s true plans, which any of you in mourning will be glad to attach yourselves to. See what writers like Junot Díaz, Gay Talese, A.M. Homes and Gary Shteyngart had to say about the great man’s retirement after the jump — and if you’re so inclined, share your own, less famous feelings in the comments.

Junot Díaz

“If it’s true, the man has done his job and mightily. If it’s not true: better.”

Gay Talese

“I’m glad for him that he (Roth) is retiring, and as for his readers (me, for example) I can always go back and re-read his great body of work, and plan to.”

A.M. Homes

“Horrible. I’m in a panic — what will I do without the next Philip Roth novel? What’s amazing is how many incredible books he’s written and that at a point when many others would have been content to rest on their laurels (do Jews even have laurels?) he had a creative second and third wind and wrote enough to span multiple careers. I just hate the idea of their being no more Philip Roth novels…”

Francine Prose

“I’m sorry Philip Roth is retiring, but it’s a good excuse for us all to reread his novels.”

Sam Lipsyte

“I didn’t know you could.”

Chuck Klosterman

“His reasoning was totally sound. Obviously, he’s in a great position — when 99 percent of writers “retire,” it just means everyone else stopped caring.”

Gary Shteyngart

“On the one hand, it’s sad. On the other hand, when you’re done, you’re done! There’s an old Russian saying zdelal delo, gul’ai smelo. Roughly “You’ve finished your task, now you may frolic with ease.” What good fortune to be done with one’s life burden!”

Robert A. Caro

“It seems to me to be a wonderful, triumphant accomplishment when you can say, “I have created a body of work that will endure, and now I am done.””

Keith Gessen

“I think it’s a Ted Solotaroff essay in which a group of young “artistic” men who just moved to the city keep seeing some guy in shirt-sleeves typing in his small East Village apartment every time they head out for a night on the town, and then he’s still typing when they head in. What a loser! And then it turns out to be Roth. That was a pretty good run he had.”

Peter Carey

“Why should he escape?”

Eileen Myles

“Thank God. I’m happy he’s still alive and we won’t have to keep hearing about his boring books. It’s very generous of him to stop.”

Jami Attenberg

“Oh, let the man retire. Leave him alone already. He deserves a nap along with the rest of us.”

Darin Strauss

“I think it’s a short con; he’ll get the attention of the Nobel people, win, then crank out brilliant work again.”


“I think that’s an unwriterly thing to do!”

Todd Gitlin

“I respect his decision to close out his oeuvre; I honor what I take to be his pain; I wish him a long & joyful life.”

Emily Gould

“It seems fake. The way he’s collaborating on his biography — producing lots and lots of autobiographical writing every day — seems awfully close to working on a book. I don’t doubt some of those detailed notes will end up published, and he likely doesn’t doubt it either. And, good! I am most fond of his books that are explicitly rooted in his own experience. Although my actual favorite is Sabbath’s Theater, so I just contradicted myself. But other than that the Zuckerman books are my favorite. I love them.”

Nathan Englander

“I’d known about this for a while now. And I understand his reasons and it makes perfect sense to me. If he goes the music-industry route and decides to come out of retirement five more times, I’d be more than happy to read the books. But I don’t think that’s the case here.”

Emma Straub

“I’ve always thought not having to retire was one of the perks of being a novelist, but if Roth feels like he’s said everything he wants and needs to say, then bully for him! I wonder what he’ll do with all of his time. Needlepoint? Disney cruises?”

Adrian Tomine

“As a fan, I’m angry and disappointed. As a struggling writer, I’m deeply envious.”

Siddhartha Mukherjee

“I’m saddened by it, but happy for him. It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend with whom you have had many conversations. I’m talking about his books, which mark my childhood and adolescence.”

Sloane Crosley

“Like I can’t share my feelings in this forum because he’s probably reading this on his iPhone.”

Kurt Andersen

“Filled with admiration.”

David Grann

“He has left behind one of the greatest bodies of work of any American writer, and so his presence will always be felt: there will always be Goodbye, Columbus and The Ghost Writer and American Pastoral.”

Mark Doty

“Do writers ever actually retire? I don’t believe it; what else would one do to make any little bit of sense out of the world?”

Ben Marcus

“How do you stop a mind like that?”

Amy Hempel

“He’s earned it, but I hope he will reconsider.”

Siri Hustvedt

“Philip Roth has left many books behind him. Not every novelist is required to write onto death.”

Jonathan Ames


Amy Sohn

“I am personally disappointed because his work over the past 20 years is so strong. He was an inspiration to me as someone who was devoted solely to the craft and less so to living life and now he seems to be saying he’d rather live life. Here he is giving it up when all of us with worldly responsibilities fantasize about having a home in Connecticut with no distractions and a pond to swim in when we’re blocked. As a married person and a parent, I find Roth’s lifestyle/hermeticism extremely appealing and also impossible. I guess all of us filtered the news through the prism of whatever we are working on now. I am deep into a difficult novel that is due imminently. So when he said he doesn’t want to have any more days where he works on five pages and throws them out, I thought, “That’s actually a huge liberty to be able to do that. I wish I could have a day like that but I don’t have time!” I also had the thought that a day like that is beautiful. It’s why we do it. Because there are enough other days where everything flows and you don’t throw anything out.”

Lev Grossman

“Truthfully, I’m all right with it. I feel like I have all the Roth I need.”

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh

“The idea of officially retiring from writing is a sobering one. It underscores one’s inevitable artistic mortality. I’m trying not to think about it too much.”

Frederick Seidel

“Not good.”

Walter Mosley

“I think that everyone has a right to decide when they want to retire and that includes Philip Roth. He leaves the writing profession with a lot for people to think about for centuries to come.”

Téa Obreht

“I think there’s something incredibly poignant about being part of the world when a literary giant like Roth officially exits the universe he has been crafting for decades. His work is finished, on its own in the world of the reader now — witnessing it in that state is a rare and beautiful thing.”

Samuel R. Delany

“Human beings retire. But Philip Roth is a body of work which is always there for readers to look through and choose from. Fifteen years ago, the man sat a table away from me during lunch time at an Upper West Side Portuguese restaurant — but that was the only time I’ve ever seen him. We never spoke; I doubt if he would have known who I was if we had. What can I do but wish the man well and be glad the books are there?”

Ariana Reines

“Writing is a dangerous addiction and can fuck with a person’s sense of time. To be prolific is a curse. I wish him luck with his abstinence, and I hope he has fun.”