Updike gone, but hardly forgotten

I had the pleasure of knowing John Updike since the time I wrote my dissertation on “The Painterly Aspects of John Updike’s Fiction” back in 1988. I spent time with him in Key West, where he accepted the Conch Republic Prize for Literature, and hosted him when he was at Illinois Wesleyan to help us celebrate the dedication of the Ames Library.

When he passed away on January 27, 2009, it had a profound effect on those of us who’ve spent a good portion of our lives on Updike scholarship. Some of us were in the process of campaigning to get him the Nobel Prize, which unfortunately was thwarted by his death. Now we’re forming the John Updike Society, which we’ll launch at the American Literature Association’s 20th Annual Conference this May 24 in Boston—appropriately, near where Updike spent most of his adult life. As with other single author societies, the goal will be to foster and promote Updike scholarship.  

Before Boston, however, I’ll join fellow Updike scholars James Schiff and Jack De Bellis at a “Remembering John Updike” tribute on April 5, which is being held at the library in Reading, Pennsylvania, where Updike spent his time as a youth. The program also features Joan Youngerman, one of Updike’s childhood friends, while another classmate, Mary Ann Moyer, has graciously agreed to take us around and show us places that were important to Updike in his youth. Recently I was also featured with James Schiff on The Spirit of Things, an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio show hosted by Rachael Kohn. The program, “John Updike on God, Sex, and Witches,” was first broadcast on March 1 and is still accessible on The Spirit of Things website.  It reinforced to me that Updike wasn’t just a major American writer; he was an international literary treasure. This photo was taken in Key West, 1993, as Updike sat for a portrait painted by Edward Hemingway, Ernest’s grandson.

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