John Hoyer Updike

John Hoyer Updike was famous as a poet, novelist, writer, literary and art critic. He was born on March 18, 1932 in Reading, Pennsylvania, and was the only child in the family. His mother was a homemaker and his father was a teacher. John spent his childhood in the town Shillington. Later, Updike’s family relocated to the village of Plowville.

His mother Linda Grace tried to find herself in creative work as a writer. In the future her attempts to do it helped John to approve himself in the literature. In his short stories and early novels the readers can feel the influence of his childhood. Updike graduated from Shillington High School and then attended Harvard. There he became known as a talented worker to the humor magazine “Harvard Lampoon” as a contributor. In 1954, he graduated from Harvard with a degree in English. Then he started to study at The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at the University of Oxford, because at that period of his life John decided to become a graphic artist. Later Updike’s family relocated to New York. There John became a contributor to an American magazine “The New Yorker”.

Working there he began his career as a writer, writing short stories, poems, and “Talk of the Town” columns. All these works were come to fill Updike’s early books. They are: “The Carpentered Hen” and “The Same Door”. The masterpieces of James Joyce,                   J. D. Salinger, Marcel Proust, Henry Green and other writers were influenced on him and it was showed through all his early works.

Later, John with his family moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he lived during 1960 and 1970. In 1960, he created “Rabbit, Run” and in 1963 “The Centaur”. There were the most famous works of Updike. They were won the National Book Award. His novel “Rabbit, Run” depicted a few months in the life of a basketball ex-star named Rabbit Angstrom, who attempted to escape the constraints of his life. This work spawned other sequels, such as: “Rabbit Redux”, “Rabbit is Rich”, “Rabbit at Rest”, and the latest novella “Rabbit Remembered”. “Rabbit Redux” was published in 1971. There the author reflected the political and social changes of the United States. His next novel “Rabbit is Rich”, which was published in 1980, won the major literary prizes: the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award. The novel “Rabbit at Rest”, which was published in 1990, also won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In this novel the main character died. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Updike told that it wasn’t very easy to finish the book, because “Rabbit” was “having so much fun” (Rose).  In 2000, John included the work “Rabbit Remembered” in the book “Licks of Love”. Once, Updike told about the main character: “a brother to me, and a good friend. He opened me up as a writer” (Rose). The Rabbit saga made him one of the most famous writers of America.

The New Yorker

All his life Updike cooperated with the magazine “The New Yorker”, which was published his works, including short stories, at which John excelled.

In 1968, Updike wrote his other famous novel “Couples”, which described the adultery in a fictional town named Tarbox. After this publication, Updike’s work was appeared in “Time” magazine. The article and the novel were devoted to problems of American society, which was forgetting all social behavior in sexual terms.

The next novels “Separating” and “Here Come the Maples”, which were published in 1974 and in 1976, devoted to his divorce. Also he wrote short stories, which were collected in “Too Far To Go”, where Updike described his first marriage. These short stories were used for creating the television movie. In this period he wrote two other works “A Month of Sundays”, in the beginning named “Scarlet Letter trilogy”, and “Marry Me: A Romance”, were also devoted to suburban adultery.

After visiting Africa Updike wrote a new novel named “The Coup”. The edition of this book appeared in 1978.

In 1984, he published the novel “The Witches of Eastwick”. It was a playful work about witches and was used for creating a film. The last published novel of Updike was “The Widows of Eastwick”. In this novel he returned to describe the life of the witches.

In one period of his life, Updike underwent a spiritual crisis. Only works of Karl Barth and Søren Kierkegaard could help him to remain a believing Christian. His masterpiece “Roger's Version” was appeared in 1986, in which Updike tried to prove the existence of God with the help of computer program.

He liked working in series, that’s why Updike decided to create a new character, named Henry Bech, who appeared in short stories. These stories were compiled in the books “Bech”, “Bech Is Back”, and “Bech At Bay: A Quasi-Novel”. These books were collected in 2001 in “The Complete Henry Bech”. He was Jewish and a World War II veteran. This character was very comical.

In 1990s – 2000s, Updike published the experimental novels. They were: the science fiction of “Toward the End of Time”, the historical fiction of “Memories of the Ford Administration”, the experimental fiction of “Seek My Face”, and others. 

The most successful work of John's late career was conventional novel “In the Beauty of the Lilies”, published in 1996. It was a historical saga about the cinema and religion in America.

In 2006, he wrote his last novel “Terrorist” about extremist Muslim. But this work received not very higher critical praise.

In 2003, the writer published a lot of his short stories named “The Early Stories”, which concluded more than hundred works about his life from collage till divorce.   

Updike was also famous as a poet. During his life he published eight volumes of poetry, including the first book “The Carpentered Hen” and the last “Endpoint”, which was published in 2009 after his death. One of British poets Gavin Ewart praised him and told: “Mr. Updike has the ability to make the ordinary seem strange” (Ewart).

Updike was also a critic of art and literature, one of the best American critics. He had his personal rules for literary criticism. And many of his positive reviews helped younger writers to start their careers.

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Updike married twice, with second wife he lived for more than 30 years.  John died in 2009, in Danvers, Massachusetts. He was 76 years old and a lung cancer was the cause of his death. Updike had three children and seven grandchildren.

During his life Updike received a lot of prizes. He was one of only three authors to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once. Updike published more than twenty novels and more than hundred short stories for adults and children. He was known as a poet, art critic, literary critic and writer. A lot of his reviews, stories and poems appeared in “The New Yorker” magazine, starting in 1954. Like told editor Robert B. Silvers Updike “one of the most elegant and coolly observant writers of his generation” (Silvers).

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