John Updike

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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John Updike

John Updike (left), receiving the National Medal of Arts from President and Mrs. George H. W. Bush, 17 November 1989
Born: March 18, 1932 (1932-03-18) (age 75)
Shillington, Pennsylvania, PA, U.S.A.
Occupation: Novelist, short story writer, critic
Genres: Modernist literature
Influences: Henry Green, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, J. D. Salinger, James Thurber[1]

John Hoyer Updike (born March 18, 1932 in Shillington, Pennsylvania) is an American writer. Updike's most famous work is his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and Rabbit Remembered). Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest both won Pulitzer Prizes for Updike. Describing his subject as "the American small town, Protestant middle class," Updike is well known for his careful craftsmanship and prolific writing, having published 22 novels and more than a dozen short story collections as well as poetry, literary criticism and children's books. Hundreds of his stories, reviews, and poems have appeared in The New Yorker since the 1950s. His works often explore sex, faith, and death, and their inter-relationships.


  • 1 Early Life
  • 2 Quotations
  • 3 Criticism
  • 4 Literary works
    • 4.1 Rabbit novels
    • 4.2 Bech books
    • 4.3 Buchanan books
    • 4.4 Other novels
    • 4.5 Short story collections
    • 4.6 Poetry
    • 4.7 Non-fiction, essays and criticism
    • 4.8 Children's books
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links

Early Life

As a teenager, Updike was encouraged by his mother to write while attending Shillington High School. Updike entered Harvard University on a full scholarship. He served as president of the Harvard Lampoon before graduating summa cum laude (he wrote a thesis on George Herbert) in 1954 with a degree in English before joining The New Yorker as a regular contributor. In 1957, Updike left Manhattan and moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, which served as the model for the fictional New England town of Tarbox in his 1968 novel, Couples. In 1959 he published a well-regarded collection of short stories, The Same Door, which included both "Who Made Yellow Roses Yellow?" and "A Trillion Feet of Gas." Other classic stories include "A&P," "Pigeon Feathers," "The Alligators," and "Museums and Women." His 1960 New Yorker essay "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," about Boston baseball legend Ted Williams' last game, is regarded as being among the best examples of sportswriting.

He favors realism and naturalism in his writing; for instance, the opening of Rabbit, Run spans several pages describing a pick-up basketball game in intricate detail. His writing typically focuses on relationships among people: friends, married couples, or those in extramarital affairs. Couples and the Rabbit tetralogy, in particular, follow this pattern. In the Rabbit books, the changing social, political, and economic history of America forms the background to the Angstroms' marriage and acts occasionally as a commentary on it - and vice versa.

On occasion Updike abandons this setting, examples being The Witches of Eastwick (1984, later made into a movie of the same name); The Coup (novel) (1978, about a fictional Cold War-era African dictatorship), and in his 2000 postmodern novel Gertrude and Claudius (a prelude to the story of Hamlet). Other important novels include The Centaur (National Book Award, 1963), Couples (1968) and Roger's Version (1986). In addition to Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, a recurrent Updike alter-ego is the moderately well-known, unprolific Jewish novelist Henry Bech who is chronicled in three comic short story cycles, Bech: A Book (1970), Bech is Back (1981) and Bech At Bay: A Quasi-Novel (1998). His stories involving the socially-conscious (and social-climbing) couple "The Maples" are widely considered to be autobiographical, and several were the basis for a television movie entitled Too Far To Go starring Michael Moriarty and Blythe Danner which was broadcast on NBC. Updike stated that he chose this surname for the characters because he admired the beauty and resilience of the tree.

While Updike has continued to publish at the rate of about a book a year, critical opinion on his work since the early nineties has been generally muted, and sometimes damning. Nevertheless, his novelistic scope in recent years has been wide: retellings of mythical stories (Tristan and Isolde in Brazil, 1994; a Hamlet prequel in Gertrude and Claudius, 2000), generational saga (In the Beauty of the Lilies, 1996) and science fiction (Toward the end of time, 1997). In Seek My Face (2002) he explored the post-war art scene; in Villages (2004), Updike returns to the familiar territory of infidelities in New England. His twenty-second novel, Terrorist, the story of a fervent, eighteen-year-old Muslim in New Jersey, was published in June 2006.

A large anthology of short stories from his formative career, titled The Early Stories 1953–1975 (2003) won the 2004 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He wrote that his intention with the form was to "give the mundane its beautiful due."

Updike is a well-known and practicing critic (Assorted Prose 1965, Picked-Up Pieces 1975, Hugging the Shore 1983, Odd Jobs 1991, More Matter 1999), and is often in the center of critical wars of words. In retaliation for Updike's review of Tom Wolfe's novel A Man In Full, Wolfe called him one of "my Three Stooges" (the other two were John Irving and Norman Mailer). Updike has also been involved in critical disputes with Gore Vidal and John Gardner, authors renowned for their criticism of him and others.

Updike has worked in a wide array of literary genres, including fiction, poetry, essay, and memoir. His lone foray into drama, Buchanan Dying: a play, apparently constituted something of a reversal, since in a 1968 interview Updike claimed that "[t]he unreality of painted people standing on a platform saying things they've said to each other for months is more than I can overlook." He further said: "From Twain to James and Faulkner to Bellow, the history of novelists as playwrights is a sad one."

In 2006 Updike was awarded the Rea Award for the Short Story for outstanding achievement in that genre.

Updike has four children and currently lives in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts with his second wife, Martha. His new book is a collection of essays on art, Still Looking (Knopf, 2005).

Updike was the subject of a so-called "closed book examination" by Nicholson Baker, entitled U and I (Random House, 1991).

In an episode of the animated television series The Simpsons ,entitled "Insane Clown Poppy", John Updike is the author of a book that Krusty the clown is promoting. The book's title is "YOUR SHOES TOO BIG TO KICKBOX GOD" which is 20 page book written by John Updike as a scam for Krusty the Clown to make money.


The great thing about the dead, they make space. (Rabbit is Rich)
[Rabbit] loves men, uncomplaining with their bellies and cross-hatched red necks, embarrassed for what to talk about when the game is over, whatever the game is. What a threadbare thing we make of life! Yet what a marvelous thing the mind is, they can't make a machine like it; and the body can do a thousand things there isn't a factory in the world can duplicate the motion. (Rabbit is Rich)
Tell your mother, if she asks, that maybe we'll meet some other time. Under the pear trees, in Paradise. (Rabbit at Rest)
Of plants tomatoes seemed the most human, eager and fragile and prone to rot. (The Witches of Eastwick)
We all dream, and we all stand aghast at the mouth of the caves of our deaths; and this is our way in. Into the nether world. (The Witches of Eastwick)
We wake at different times, and the gallantest flowers are those that bloom in the cold. (The Witches of Eastwick)
An Irish temper makes you appreciate Lutherans.(Terrorist)
Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark. ("Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," The New Yorker, 1960)
Gods do not answer letters. ("Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," The New Yorker, 1960)
My mother had dreams of being a writer and I used to see her type in the front room. The front room is also where I would go when I was sick so I would sit there and watch her.(2004 interview with Academy of Achievement (source:
Black is a shade of brown. So is white, if you look. (Brazil)
Standing with her [Isabel] in the warming waterfall, soaping her skin so its yielding silk was overlaid with a white grease, and then letting her soap him [Tristão] in turn, he felt his cashew become a banana, and then a rippled yam, bursting with weight. (Brazil)
Freedom is a blanket which, pulled up to the chin, uncovers the feet. (The Coup)
Fame is a mask that eats into the face. (Self-Consciousness)
Masturbation! Thou saving grace note upon the baffled chord of self. (A Month of Sundays)


John Dolan called him a dotard when he praised Arundhati Roy's novel "...who drove the populist ball straight onto the green by calling it 'a Tiger Woodsian debut'."

Martin Amis' collection of reviews, The War Against Cliche, includes a section focused on Updike's writing (pgs 369-388). Amis addresses Picked-Up Pieces ("Updike's view of twentieth-century literature is a levelling one. Talent, like life, should be available to all."), Roger's Version, ("I sense the genius, but not the heavy impact of greatness, not yet."), Self-Consciousness: Memoirs ("The last section of the book, 'On Being a Self Forever', is to my knowledge the best thing yet written on what it is like to get older: age, and the only end of age."), Rabbit at Rest ("This novel is enduringly eloquent about weariness, age and disgust, in a prose that is always fresh, nubile and unwitherable."), and Odd Jobs: Essays and Criticism ("There is a trundling quality, increasingly indulged: too much trolley-car nostalgia and baseball-mitt Americana, too much ancestor worship, too much piety.").

Literary works

Rabbit novels

  • (1960) Rabbit, Run
  • (1971) Rabbit Redux
  • (1981) Rabbit Is Rich
  • (1990) Rabbit At Rest
  • (2001) Rabbit Remembered (a novella in the short story collection Licks of Love)

Bech books

  • (1970) Bech, a Book
  • (1982) Bech Is Back
  • (1998) Bech at Bay

Buchanan books

  • (1974) Buchanan Dying (a play)
  • (1992) Memories of the Ford Administration (a novel)

Other novels

  • (1959) The Poorhouse Fair
  • (1963) The Centaur
  • (1965) Of The Farm
  • (1968) Couples
  • (1975) A Month Of Sundays
  • (1977) Marry Me (A Romance)
  • (1978) The Coup
  • (1984) The Witches of Eastwick
  • (1986) Roger's Version
  • (1988) S.
  • (1994) Brazil
  • (1996) In the Beauty of the Lilies
  • (1997) Toward the end of time
  • (2000) Gertrude and Claudius
  • (2002) Seek My Face
  • (2004) Villages
  • (2006) Terrorist

Short story collections

  • (1959) The Same Door
  • (1962) Pigeon Feathers
  • (1962) A&P
  • (1964) Olinger Stories (a selection)
  • (1966) The Music School
  • (1972) Museums And Women
  • (1979) Problems
  • (1979) Too Far To Go (related short stories about a single family)
  • (1987) Trust Me (book)
  • (1994) The Afterlife
  • (2000) The Best American Short Stories of the Century (editor)
  • (2001) Licks of Love
  • (2003) The Early Stories: 1953-1975


  • (1954) Superman
  • (1958) The Carpentered Hen
  • (1963) Telephone Poles
  • (1969) Midpoint
  • (1977) Tossing and Turning
  • (1985) Facing Nature
  • (1993) Collected Poems 1953-1993
  • (2001) Americana: and Other Poems

Non-fiction, essays and criticism

  • (1965) Assorted Prose
  • (1975) Picked-Up Pieces
  • (1983) Hugging The Shore
  • (1989) Self-Consciousness: Memoirs
  • (1989) Just Looking
  • (1991) Odd Jobs
  • (1996) Golf Dreams: Writings on Golf
  • (1999) More Matter
  • (2005) Still Looking: Essays on American Art
  • (2007) Due Considerations: Essays and Criticism

Children's books

  • (1962) The Magic Flute
  • (1964) The Ring
  • (1965) A Child's Calendar
  • (1969) Bottom's Dream
  • (1995) A Helpful Alphabet of Friendly Objects
  1. ^ Osen, Diane. "Interview with John Updike", The National Book Foundation. 2007. Retrieved on 2007-07-10.
  • Brief biography at Kirjasto
  • 1984 Audio Interview with John Updike by Don Swaim
  • New York Times page on Updike reviews
  • Joyce Carol Oates on John Updike
  • The Bat Segundo Show #50 (2006 podcast interview)
  • "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" (The New Yorker, 1960)
  • John Updike interviewed by Ginny Dougary (2002)
  • "Superman" by John Updike
  • In Depth with John Updike from CSPAN Dec. 2005
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