Home Arts & Culture Philip Roth rebukes Wikipedia over The Human Stain edit

Philip Roth rebukes Wikipedia over The Human Stain edit

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American novelist Philip Roth has criticized Wikipedia after he was unable to convince the site to change an entry about one of his novels.

Philip Milton Roth, 79, tried to tell Wikipedia about an error in the entry for his novel The Human Stain, published in 2000.

But Wikipedia’s administrators initially refused to amend the entry, saying they required a second source.

The prize-winning author is famed for his tales of Jewish life, relationships and mortality.

The Human Stain tells the tale of Coleman Silk, a classics tutor at a fictional Massachusetts college, whose life spirals into chaos after he makes an ill-received remark judged by some as a racial slur.

American novelist Philip Roth has criticized Wikipedia after he was unable to convince the site to change an entry about one of his novels

American novelist Philip Roth has criticized Wikipedia after he was unable to convince the site to change an entry about one of his novels

According to the Wikipedia entry – which has now been amended – Coleman Silk, who Philip Roth portrayed as born to black parents but who lived his life as a white man, was based on the character of writer and critic Anatole Broyard.

Anatole Broyard, a star book reviewer for the New York Times for many years, was also born to a black family but lived as white.

However, in a lengthy open letter published on the website of the New Yorker magazine, Philip Roth insists that the idea his character was based on Anatole Broyard was utterly incorrect.

“This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip – there is no truth in it at all,” Philip Roth wrote.

In the 2,655-word letter, Philip Roth explains instead that the character of Coleman Silk was instead based on the experience of a friend of his, whose own ill-chosen remark, made while teaching at Princeton in 1985, was also seen as a racial epithet.

In the letter, Philip Roth describes this as “the initiating incident” of The Human Stain: “There is no novel without it. There is no Coleman Silk without it.”

By contrast, Philip Roth says of Anatole Broyard: “He and I barely knew each other. Over more than three decades, I ran into him, casually and inadvertently, maybe three or four times before a protracted battle with prostate cancer ended his life, in 1990.”

Describing his efforts to get the entry changed, he writes in the New Yorker that he was told by the “English Wikipedia Administrator” that he “was not a credible source”.

Following the publication of the New Yorker letter, the Wikipedia entry was changed and a section noting the debate inserted near its end.

Wikipedia entries and edits are policed by administrators, who have the power to delete pages, or protect those being vandalized. Recent reports suggest the number of people being approved to run the site is on the decline.

Wikipedia by numbers

English Wikipedia:

• 4,005,000 articles

• If printed and bound, it would contain more than 1,700 volumes

• 32,760 contributors making more than five edits per month, about 10-15% of whom are women

• More than 700 active bots

All Wikipedias:


• 22.8 million articles in all languages

• 285 language editions

• Smallest edition is Kashmiri, with 131 articles

Source: Wikipedia