Potok, who was born on this day in 1929, is most famous for his first book The Chosen, published in 1967 and listed on The New York Times’ best seller list for 39 consecutive weeks. Ultimately, the book sold more than 3.4 million copies.
Potok, who was raised in a strict Jewish household, was encouraged to only read and study orthodox Jewish writings by his parents. But after reading Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited as a teenager, he said he knew that he wanted to be a writer in the same fashion as Waugh, who became his lifelong writing hero and role model. He produced his first fiction at the age of 16, and at age 17 he made his first submission to the magazine The Atlantic Monthly. Although it wasn't published, he received a note from the editor complimenting his work, something all writers hope for but rarely have happen when they receive a rejection.
Also an artist, Potok has a number of paintings that have been purchased for collections in noted galleries. The language of art permeates his writings and one critic called him "The Michaelangelo of the written word." He wryly answered that the only time he felt like Michaelangelo was when he was doing revisions.