Blake Bailey on Philip Roth’s Writing and Personal Life

Read Transcript EXPAND

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: What made you want to take on this job, because he’s a notoriously difficult person to pin down on anybody’s terms but his own?

BLAKE BAILEY, AUTHOR, “PHILIP ROTH: THE BIOGRAPHY”: Yes. Well, I had written three previous literary biographies. And I was told that Philip had parted ways, with my predecessor, Ross Miller. I had admired Philip’s work on my life. I saw the opportunity. And I wrote him a letter, and he called me. And he had known Cheever, and we were talking about my three previous subjects, all of them ruinous alcoholics, and all of them safely dead. And Philip said: “Do you ever write about someone who isn’t alcoholic and dead?”


BAILEY: And I said: “Not yet. You would be my first.” So, we got together and talked about it. And we kind of — we hit it off.

AMANPOUR: Yes, I mean, it sounds like, certainly from that story. And he clearly liked and respected you. I mean, I think it took you about a decade or so to do it. But in a documentary in 2014, he said that you were tireless, you were prodigious, and you interviewed everybody and went straight for the juggler. Let’s just listen to his voice talking about you.


PHILIP ROTH, AUTHOR: So Blake thinks you don’t take him until the year 2022, I think he said. And we had talked about this. I said, I will do anything for you, but I don’t know if I can stay alive until 20 — I will do my best to stay alive until 2020. But don’t push me over the top. So he’s going to — it’ll be published after my death.

AMANPOUR: Was that an issue for him? I mean, clearly, you were right. He was right. He wasn’t going to survive until the publication. How much of an issue was that for him?

BAILEY: The fact that he would not be alive when I was done?


BAILEY: When we met in 2012, Philip had recently — I mean, from the age of 49, he had been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, and he had a quintuple bypass in 1989. And he was still alive in 2012, because that was — because Philip just had an incredibly rigorous discipline of exercise and seeing doctors the way he should and so forth. But he had recently been upgraded to congestive heart failure. So he said: “I have got about a year, and I’m going to — we’re going to sit down. We are going to have a lot of interviews. I’m going to give you everything I got, and then I will get out of your way.”

About This Episode EXPAND

Skye Fitzgerald; Nima Elbagir; Blake Bailey; Thomas Roberts. The interview with author Blake Bailey that appears in this program was conducted and broadcast prior to the allegations of sexual assault becoming public.