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Henry Roth

Born February 8, 1906(1906-02-08)
Tysmenitz, Galicia, Austro-Hungary
Died October 13, 1995 (aged 89)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Occupation novelist, short story writer,
Nationality American
Genres Fiction, fictional prose

Henry Roth (February 8, 1906 – October 13, 1995) was an American novelist and short story writer.



Roth was born in Tysmenitz near Stanislaviv, Galicia, Austro-Hungary (now known as Tysmenytsia, near Ivano-Frankivsk, Galicia, the Ukraine). His first published novel Call It Sleep (originally published in 1934) achieved a second life since its re-publication and critical re-appraisal in the 1960s when it sold 1,000,000 copies and was hailed as an overlooked Depression-era masterpiece and classic novel of immigration. It is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Jewish American literature. Call It Sleep was dedicated to his then mistress and muse, Eda Lou Walton.

After the book's publication, Roth began and abandoned a second novel and wrote several short stories. In the early 1940s he abandoned writing, and moved from New York to Maine and later New Mexico, and worked as a firefighter, laborer, and teacher, among other occupations, before retiring to a trailer park in Albuquerque.

Roth originally didn't welcome the new-found success that Call It Sleep received, valuing his privacy instead. However, he soon began to write again, at first short stories. At the age of 73, he began work on a series of novels that grew to six volumes, with final editing completed shortly before his death. The first four of these were published (two of them posthumously) as a cycle called Mercy of a Rude Stream while the last two manuscript volumes remain unpublished. He died in Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States in 1995.

Roth failed to garner the acclaim some say he deserves, perhaps because he failed to produce another novel for sixty years. His massive writer's block after the publication of Call it Sleep is often attributed to Roth's personal problems, such as depression, and political conflicts. It has also been alleged that because the protagonist in the Mercy of a Rude Stream novels had incestuous relationships with a sister and a cousin that this indicated that Roth himself engaged in such relationships. However, both the sister and the cousin who are alleged to have been involved in such relationships with Roth denied that they ever occurred.

The character E. I. Lonoff in the Philip Roth's Zuckerman novels is a composite of Roth, Bernard Malamud and fictional elements.


  • Call It Sleep (1934)
  • Nature's First Green (1979)
  • Shifting Landscape: A Composite, 1925–1987 (1987)
  • Mercy of a Rude Stream Vol. 1: A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park (1994)
  • Mercy of a Rude Stream Vol. 2: A Diving Rock on the Hudson (1995)
  • Mercy of a Rude Stream Vol. 3: From Bondage (1996)
  • Mercy of a Rude Stream Vol. 4: Requiem for Harlem (1998)


  • Leonard Michaels, "The Long Comeback of Henry Roth: Call it Miraculous," New York Times Book Review, August 15, 1993
  • Kellman, Steven G., Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth (W.W. Norton, 2005).
  • New Yorker Magazine, August, 2005
  • New Yorker Magazine, May 29, 2006

External links

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