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John Updike
Updike in 1989
Updike in 1989
Born John Hoyer Updike
(1932-03-18)March 18, 1932
Reading, Pennsylvania, United States
Died January 27, 2009(2009-01-27) (aged 76)
Danvers, Massachusetts, United States
Occupation Novelist, short-story writer, poet, literary critic, artist
Genre Literary realism


John Hoyer Updike (March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009) was an American novelist, poet, short-story writer, art critic, and literary critic. One of only three writers to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once. Updike published more than twenty novels, more than a dozen short-story collections, as well as poetry, art and literary criticism and children's books during his career.

Hundreds of his stories, reviews, and poems appeared in The New Yorker starting in 1954. He also wrote regularly for The New York Review of Books. His most famous work is his "Rabbit" series (the novels Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit at Rest; and the novella Rabbit Remembered), which chronicles the life of the middle-class everyman Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom over the course of several decades, from young adulthood to death. Both Rabbit Is Rich (1982) and Rabbit at Rest (1990) were recognized with the Pulitzer Prize.

Updike is considered one of the greatest American fiction writers of his generation. He was widely praised as America's "last true man of letters", with an immense and far-reaching influence on many writers. The excellence of his prose style is acknowledged even by critics skeptical of other aspects of Updike's work.

Early life and education

Three Tributes 10,713 Pages
Books by John Updike

Updike was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, the only child of Linda Grace (née Hoyer) and Wesley Russell Updike, and was raised in the nearby small town of Shillington. The family later moved to the unincorporated village of Plowville. His mother's attempts to become a published writer impressed the young Updike. "One of my earliest memories", he later recalled, "is of seeing her at her desk... I admired the writer's equipment, the typewriter eraser, the boxes of clean paper. And I remember the brown envelopes that stories would go off in—and come back in." These early years in Berks County, Pennsylvania, would influence the environment of the Rabbit Angstrom stories, as well as many of his early novels and short stories.

Updike graduated from Shillington High School as co-valedictorian and class president in 1950 and received a full scholarship to Harvard College. Updike had already received recognition for his writing as a teenager by winning a Scholastic Art & Writing Award, and at Harvard he soon became well known among his classmates as a talented contributor to The Harvard Lampoon, of which he served as president. He graduated summa cum laude in 1954 with a degree in English.

Upon graduation, Updike attended the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at the University of Oxford with the ambition of becoming a cartoonist. After returning to the United States, Updike and his family moved to New York, where he became a regular contributor to The New Yorker. This was the beginning of his professional writing career.

Personal life and death

Updike married Mary E. Pennington, an art student at Radcliffe College, in 1953, while he was still a student at Harvard. She accompanied him to Oxford, England, where he attended art school and where their first child was born in 1955. The couple had three more children together. They divorced in 1974. Updike had seven grandsons.

In 1977 Updike married Martha Ruggles Bernhard, with whom he lived for more than thirty years in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. He died of lung cancer at a hospice in Danvers, Massachusetts, on January 27, 2009, at the age of 76.

In popular culture

  • Updike was featured on the cover of Time twice, on April 26, 1968 and again on October 18, 1982
  • In 2000, Updike appeared as himself in The Simpsons episode Insane Clown Poppy at the Festival of Books
  • The main character portrayed by Eminem in the film 8 Mile (2002) is nicknamed "Rabbit" and has some similarities to Rabbit Angstrom. The film's soundtrack has a song titled "Rabbit Run"
  • Portraits of Updike drawn by the American caricaturist David Levine appeared several times in The New York Review of Books

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