John Updike

James Schiff

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
John Updike

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John Updike (b. 1932–d. 2009) was an immensely versatile and prolific writer who produced more than sixty volumes, including novels, short stories, literary and art criticism, poems, children’s books, a memoir, and a play. A distinguished “man of letters,” Updike excelled at not simply one genre but three: the novel, short fiction, and criticism. Widely praised for his facility with language, visual style, and lyric love of the surface world, Updike was capable of generating scenes and images of extraordinary beauty and freshness. Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, he was educated in public schools in the nearby suburb of Shillington. Pushed toward a career in the arts by his mother, Linda, a homemaker who herself had ambitions of becoming a writer, he earned a tuition scholarship to Harvard. After Harvard and graduate study in drawing in Oxford (England), he was offered a job at the New Yorker, a magazine that he had worshiped ever since he was a boy. He and his young family spent two years in Manhattan but then left in 1957, moving to Ipswich, Massachusetts, a small town an hour north of Boston. Except for a year in London and two in Boston, he would spend the final fifty-two years of his life in small Massachusetts towns on the North Shore, composing at least one book each year. Throughout his life he maintained close ties with the New Yorker, publishing nearly eight hundred pieces (fiction, poetry, articles, reviews) in its pages. His best-known work is Rabbit Angstrom, a sequence of four novels and one novella, written at ten-year intervals between 1960 and 2000. The Rabbit books chronicle the life of everyman Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, while also documenting the history of American culture over the second half of the 20th century. In all, Updike published twenty-three novels, including The Centaur, a mythical depiction of small-town Pennsylvania life; Couples, a sadly erotic tale of suburban adultery during the Kennedy era; The Coup, the memoirs of an exiled African dictator; and his Scarlet Letter trilogy of novels (A Month of Sunday, Roger’s Version, and S.), which engage in intertextual dialogue with Hawthorne’s canonical novel. Updike was also heralded as a major writer of short fiction, publishing more than two hundred stories, including “A & P,” “Pigeon Feathers,” and “Separating.” Given his careful attention to depiction of the quotidian, some have argued that Updike’s talents were better suited to the short story. In addition, he published eleven volumes and more than five thousand pages of essays and criticism, establishing himself as the most significant critic and “man of letters” of his generation.

Article.  21132 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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