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R.I.P. John Updike

John Updike


Literary lion John Updike has died. The 76-year-old's death has taken many by surprise; as recently as November, he was touring in support of his latest novel, "The Widows of Eastwick."

In Los Angeles, he appeared at UCLA, where he was interviewed by books editor David L. Ulin, who says:

I thought he was charming and self-deprecating, and before the interview we sat backstage and talked about baseball. I found him to be very down to earth, both as a person and in terms of the way he looked at his career. Most writers of his stature have a sense of themselves as somehow existing above the rest of us, but  Updike saw himself as a working writer even to the extent of decribing himself as a freelancer; and I found it deeply heartening that someone at his level of achievement still worried about keeping his name in print.

The author staked his claim on the literary landscape with 1960's "Rabbit, Run." The disaffected, philandering Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom captured both readers' and Updike's imaingations; he went on to write four other "Rabbit" books. But he didn't stop there; Updike wrote 27 novels, 13 short story collections, books of poetry, nonfiction and essays, at least one play and was recently still reviewing books for the New Yorker.

My memory of Updike is reading his story "A&P" in high school, in New England; I lived in a seaside town where we shopped at the A&P, so it had a sense of heightened reality. Last year, when I was teaching in Pittsburgh, I used the story in a lesson with my students about opening lines. I was thrilled to find that it resonated with them as much as it had with me, despite the gap of years, despite the story's unfamiliar brand names, despite the fact that the kids didn't even know that A&P was a grocery chain. That's a durability that authors can only hope for. And that's how I'll remember John Updike.

"In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits."

How will you remember him?

—Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Caleb Jones / Associated Press

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Its incredible that the guy wrote over 60 books.


This is a great interview with him at the New York Public Library right after his book Terrorist was published.

Only Updike could get inside the mind of a young muslim terrorist simply through imagination.

Towering genius. He could wax rhapsodic on so many topics, so many interests. He will be missed

Mr. Updike belongs to that vanishing breed of writers whose works will not only be missed by those who emulate him, but will, without doubt, capture the imagination of those yet to know him.

Mr. Updike is a literary giant in his own right.

Whenever a new Updike book came into my home, I could not sleep till it was finished. His works were so wonderfully complex.

His A&P is set in 1961 Ipswich, Mass. The old A&P was on Market Street - it then moved and the space became Hills Dept. Store.

I remember reading it in Jr. High - I was so excited that someone actually set story in my hometown, and that I knew the places he was describing.

Just about every sentence this man wrote and published is worth reading time and again. The definition of the disciplined, skilled writer. Anyone who appreciates the written word appreciates Updike's mastery of craft. He'll be missed...but look at what he left behind...amazing.

I saw John Updike at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival a couple of years ago. I gave him a copy of my long poem Seasonal Affective Disorder on which I had written 'with love and gratitude'. Updike's writing has nourished me for decades. It is an absolute scandal that he was never awarded the Nobel prize for literature, and now that he has gone, perhaps people will finally realise what a great writer and poet he actually was. In my opinion he was as great as Steinbeck and almost as great as Shakespeare.

Updike's passing is akin to a punctuation mark on the closing of a period in America: the false sconomic postwar boom with a new home and two cars in every garage, unlimited credit, unlimited horizons, and "idealistic careers and early marriages." We would do well to study the "Rabbit" cycle of novels to understand how America (and the world) got into our current state of affairs that imposes such a reverse introspection.

The literary world was bleak by the passing of Mr. Updike.
Yet, for those of us whose flight of fancy is about to take off, much have yet to be discerned.

On Mr. Updike's Leaving

Pity not the doleful soul.
As he moves closer to thee,
His woeful face renders full,
Empty is the vessel within me.

As the sky darkens anew,
Heralding the day's demise,
Of a crowd dispersed to a few,
Behold the darkness in disguise!

Take my hand as you would.
I am that leper struggling to his feet.
For there is not much to unload,
But, soothe the wounds beneath.

Pray for my soul as I walk away.
Free me from my angst and disbelief.
From which I struggle and deny,
Thy face, so serene...it defies my grief.

To that other world, take me then.
Or to that nether world of flight and fancy,
Or better yet to that solitary cavern,
All crave and discern with envy.

I had the joy of reading the Everyman's Library edition of the complied Rabbit novels just this autumn. Amazing. In them Updike portrayed people who, frankly, I didn't much like at first. But I grew to care for them over the 1600 pages. Like flawed family members, I missed them when I finished. His elegance mixed with cheekiness was original and welcome. RIP, JU.

I am an old painter, and people who write good books and stories, and who live lives in which they are givers to the river of human feelings, are treasures of the mind and soul
then am I deeply wounded at the end of his days among us, our human monuments of great worth and belovedness are dwindling, nothing seems to come into the spaces they filled so well...Goodby John , it was good knowing you.

John Updike is the novelist that got me excited about books when I was in High School. The Rabbit books had a seismic impact on me - even though they described a certain kind of anomie in American Life, I found them incredibly alive and vibrant - that was Updike's wondrous prose at work, and it didn't hurt that he had created perhaps the apposite character in all of post-war American literature. I found much to admire in the late-period novels, at least the good ones, and the criticism is unparalled for its breadth, erudition and intellectual passion. I will miss him like no other American writer I've ever read.

Years ago, in college, I got in the habit of re-reading Hemingway's Sun Also Rises about once a year, no doubt with a fuzzy picture of myself running with the bulls in Pamplona; then came On the Road and I was racing back & forth across the land with Dean & his pals. But these days nothing equals the magic that springs from re-reading The Centaur. For me that interweaving of ancient myth and the present never ages. The author dies; his works live. We know this by heart. Read Updike again! and again.


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