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.

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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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