Roth was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, the oldest child of first generation Jewish-American parents of Galician descent. After graduating from high school at the age of 16, Roth went on to attend Bucknell University, earning a degree in English. He then pursued graduate studies at the University of Chicago, receiving a M.A. in English literature and then working briefly as an instructor in the university's writing program.
It has during his Chicago stay that Roth met the novelist Saul Bellow, who briefly became his mentor, and Margaret Martinson, who eventually became his first wife. Though the two would separate in 1963, and Martinson die in a car crash in 1968, Roth's dysfunctional marriage to her left an important mark on his literary output. Specifically, Martinson is the inspiration for female characters in several of Roth's novels, including Mary Jane Reed (aka "the Monkey") in Portnoy's Complaint.
Between the end of his studies and the publication of his first book in 1959, Roth served 2 years in the army and then wrote short fiction and criticism for various magazines, including movie reviews for The New Republic. Though his first novel won the prestigous National Book Award in 1960, it was not until the publication of Portnoy's Complaint in 1969 that Roth enjoyed widespread commercial and critical success.
During the 1970s Roth experimented in various modes, from the political satire Our Gang[?] to the Kafkae-sque fantasy The Breast[?]. By the end of the decade, though, Roth had created his Nathan Zuckerman alter-ego. In the series of highly self-referential novels that have followed since, Zuckerman almost always appears as either the main character or at least as an interlocuter. The number of books published during this period as well as the prestigous awards several of them have won lead many to consider it the most productive in Roth's career.
Events in Roth's personal life during the same time, though, were more mixed. According to his pseudo-confessional novel, Operation Shylock[?], Roth suffered a nervous breakdown in the late 1980s as a result of pain-killers prescribed to him after a difficult knee operation. On April 19, 1990, he married long-time companion and English actress, Claire Bloom[?]. In 1994 they separated and in 1996 Bloom published an embarassing memoir detailing their relationship called Leaving a Doll's House. It is rumoured Roth was infuriated by his unflattering depiction there, and that to exact revenge he caricatured Bloom as the poisonous Eve Frame character in I Married a Communist.
Philip Roth currently lives alone in the Connecticut countryside.