What Was It Like to Have Philip Roth as an English Prof?

Image by Thier­ry Ehrmann, via Flickr Com­mons

Writ­ing in The New York Times this week­end, author Lisa Scot­to­line remem­bers her days at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, back dur­ing the 1970s, when she took sem­i­nars with then-vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor, Philip Roth. One course the famous nov­el­ist taught was called ““The Lit­er­a­ture of Desire,” which prompt­ed stu­dents to think, “Who wouldn’t want to read dirty books with Philip Roth?”  It turns out the class did­n’t get very sexy. But stu­dents did learn quite a bit. Scot­to­line writes:

Look­ing back, I’ve come to under­stand that he was the best pro­fes­sor I ever had, not only because of his genius, but also because of his dis­tance. We were a group of girls eager to please, to guess at what he want­ed us to say, and to say that for him. We all want­ed to hear about him, or have him tell us how to write, but that was some­thing he stead­fast­ly denied us. By with­hold­ing his own per­son­al­i­ty, thoughts and opin­ions, he forced us back on our own per­son­al­i­ties, thoughts and opin­ions. He made us dis­cov­er what we want­ed to write about, and to write about it the way we want­ed to.

You can read the rest of her account here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es from Great Uni­ver­si­ties

Watch Philip Roth, Now 80, Read from His Irrev­er­ent Clas­sic, Portnoy’s Com­plaint

Philip Roth Pre­dicts the Death of the Nov­el; Paul Auster Coun­ters

Philip Roth Reads “In Mem­o­ry of a Friend, Teacher & Men­tor” (A Free Down­load Ben­e­fit­ing a Pub­lic Library)

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  • Cindy Weber-Cleary says:

    I took a Cre­ative Writ­ing sem­i­nar with Philip Roth at Penn dur­ing my senior year–and it was one of the best col­lege expe­ri­ences I ever had. One had to apply to be accept­ed and I nev­er thought I would be! But some­how, I was… I was intim­i­dat­ed to be in his class, but he was a thought­ful and encour­ag­ing pro­fes­sor who gave won­der­ful, insight­ful feed­back. He also wrote a ref­er­ence for me that opened so many doors! The fact that my par­ents went to the same high school in Newark–Weequahic– as he only sweet­ens the mem­o­ry.

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