The featured poem for Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 on The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor is Updike’s “Tools.” It’s in print format with a link to download Keillor reading the poem. It’s easy to see why Keillor chose this particular poem for Black Friday, the biggest retail shopping day of the year.

“Tools” begins, “Tell me, how do the manufacturers of tools / turn a profit? I have used the same clawed hammer / for forty years. The screwdriver misted with rust / once slipped into my young hand, a new / householder’s.”

The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor:  “Tools,” by John Updike


Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 2.43.39 PMOn November 17, 2015, Doubleday published This Old Man: All in Pieces by Roger Angell (320pp., cloth, SRP $26.95), and Updike Society member Bruce Moyer says that the selected writings from the acclaimed New Yorker writer and editor include editorial notes for John Updike.

One of the reviewers at seconds the notion: “Personal observations such as the insight into John Updike are gems on their own.”

Amazon is currently selling the book in hardcover/cloth for $17.51, or 35 percent off list price.

John Updike is represented in a new mural on the wall behind a music stage at the Berks County YR Club in Wyomissing, but it took a little prodding from YR Club manager Virginia Griffith for him to be included. She had commissioned three sisters who operate an arts business called Turquoise—Melissa, Ashley and Courtney Reed—but the sisters weren’t familiar enough with Updike to have painted him initially in their mural.

As Reading Eagle correspondent Carole Duran reports, “Courtney was asked to include John Updike, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who was born in Shillington. She wasn’t born yet when Updike was publishing his ‘Rabbit’ series, and was not familiar with the writer. After her research, she painted the book jacket of Rabbit, Run.” Courtney, 27, the youngest of the sisters, was born before the last of the high-profile Rabbit novels, Rabbit at Rest, was published in 1990, but it only goes to prove that The John Updike Childhood Home might be needed to keep Updike alive for future generations of Berks Countians.

Don’t squint too hard to locate the original hardcover dust jacket. Courtney used a later paperback edition, and you can see it just to the left of the clock post.


Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 7.26.57 AMDavid Updike “shared the story of a summer in his life, as pieced together from various books written by his father, John,” Gerold Shelton wrote in a Dispatch-Argus story. Although his father drew heavily on his own life for his fiction, Updike told an audience at Augustana College that determining what’s real and what’s invented about his family’s past in The Maples Stories (first published in paperback as Too Far to Go) is difficult.

“I think it’s true in its essence,” he said, “but not in its details.”

Updike, who has had two short story collections of his own published, was quoted as saying that having a famous writer for a father meant that he could get his manuscript read right away. “I think it was helpful initially, but maybe a bit distracting later one. Overall, it has been a positive influence.”

DavidUpdikeOn Thursday, November 19, 2015, David Updike will speak “On Being a Character in Your Father’s Stories” at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. The presentation, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the Hanson Science Building, Room 102, 726 35th St.

Updike’s oldest son is the author of two collections of short stories, Out on the Marsh and Old Girlfriends. According to the Dispatch-Argus, he plans to talk about “the differences between his childhood home life and events that show up in John Updike’s stories, particularly the Maples stories.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 8.35.08 AMFrank Fitzpatrick, an Updike Society member who’s written about Updike a number of times in the past, has posted a new article at the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“Frank’s Place: A fictional hoops hero who will endure”

Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, Fitzpatrick writes, “could become basketball’s most enduring hero ever. . . . Today you won’t find his name in the Hall of Fame at Springfield or his throwback jersey in the Modell’s at the mall. But don’t let that fool you. This lean, 6-foot-2 Berks Countian was a basketball immortal, one who long after time swallows Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James will be recalled, read about, and discussed.”

Good point.

As Fitzpatrick notes, “If you assume the lessons of great literature will survive longer than the memories of great athletes, then Rabbit will easily outlive his flesh-and-blood counterparts. Who today, for example, can name a whaler other than Captain Ahab?”

Another good point, and one Updike himself makes in Rabbit, Run about his ex-basketball star when he plays a pick-up game with young boys who don’t realize he was once a high school star and one of the biggest names in Berks County: “They’ve forgotten him; worse, they’ve never heard of him.”


Tags: ,

The John Updike Society is now accepting proposals for papers to be presented at the Fourth Biennial John Updike Society Conference at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, October 12-15, 2016.

We welcome one-page proposals for 15-20 minute papers on all aspects of Updike’s life and work, but especially seek:

—Proposals on humor in John Updike’s poetry and prose, since the conference keynote speaker will be noted humorist and author Garrison Keillor, host of The Writer’s Almanac and longtime host of NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion.

—Proposals on Updike works celebrating a milestone anniversary in 2016: The Music School (50th), Marry Me: A Romance (40th), Roger’s Version (30th), In the Beauty of the Lilies (20th), and Terrorist (10th).

—Proposals for essays of textual criticism that draw heavily upon original manuscripts and sources, since the conference celebrates special collections and scholarship.

Deadline:  June 15, 2016

The Fourth Biennial John Updike Society Conference celebrates the newest addition to the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library: The Don and Ellen Greiner Collection of John Updike. The Hollings Library also holds major research collections on F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway (including early books signed to each other), Joseph Heller (including the typewriter he used to write Catch-22), Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, John Hawkes, Frederick Busch, James Elroy, James Dickey, George V. Higgins, Elmore Leonard, Pat Conroy, Robert Burns, John Milton, and Charles Darwin. It was at the University of South Carolina that Updike delivered his now-famous treatise “On Literary Biography.” Those who have papers accepted are encouraged to make time for additional onsite research. Conference highlights:

—Garrison Keillor (A Prairie Home Companion) will deliver the keynote address

—Two of Updike’s children will present slides he took of the family over several decades

—Leslie Morris (Houghton Library) and Elizabeth Sudduth (USC Libraries) will talk about their Updike collections

—Attendees will receive a copy of the book-length catalog of the Greiner JU collection

—A special video presentation of Updike’s talk on literary biography will be featured

—Attendees will tour Civil War sites like the State House and the USC “Horseshoe,” which Gen. Sherman spared on his march through the South because the campus buildings were being used as a hospital for both sides

Send proposal and a brief one- or two-paragraph bio to:  Program director Don Greiner:

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 9.09.06 PMSuccessful proposals will be acknowledged within two weeks of receipt. To present a paper or moderate a panel at the conference, participants must be members of the John Updike Society and register for the conference. For membership information, see the Society’s website at Those who have papers accepted can join when they register for the conference. Registration information will be forthcoming.

The conference hotel will be the Inn at USC Wyndham Garden Columbia (pictured), an elegant boutique hotel located right on the campus of the University of South Carolina in the heart of downtown Columbia. More information is forthcoming with the registration announcement, but if you are in a hurry to book a room make sure you mention The John Updike Society to get the block discount.

Call for Papers 4

On The New Yorker & Me blog, a writer posting under the moniker “Capedrifter” was bothered enough by Dan Chiasson’s New Yorker review of Updike’s Selected Poems that he penned a rebuttal.

Capedrifter thought Chiasson’s review inconsistent and questionable (and in this, he’s probably not alone). “Yes, it strongly recommends the new Selected Poems . . . And yes, it calls ‘Endpoint’ ‘a perfect sonnet sequence.’ But it also says things like, ‘The problem is that all of his poems about strain, discomfort, and regret cheer him, and we don’t associate cheer with great poetry,’ and ‘Updike’s poems level our intrinsic ranking of occasions’ and ‘Vocabulary is the most overrated element of good writing, or so these poems tempt us to conclude.

“These are questionable criticisms,” Capedrifter says, then proceeds to disprove all three criticisms by citing excerpts from the Selected Poems:

“In Praise of John Updike’s Poetry (Contra Dan Chiasson)”


With the R.J. Doerr Company making great progress on the historic restoration of The John Updike Childhood Home at 117 Philadelphia Ave. in Shillington, Pa., the Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation announced that they will increase their support of The John Updike Society’s efforts to turn the home into a museum. This fiscal year they are upping their donation from $75,000 to $175,000.

“This really gives us some breathing room,” John Updike Society president James Plath said, “and I hope that the Schiff Family Foundation donation spurs others to give to a restoration project that’s really picking up steam.” Plath said that Doerr has come up with a restoration plan that takes into account Updike’s writings about the house, interviews with people who were inside the house during Updike’s time, historic features in similar period architectural dwellings, and “footprints” and other clues found inside the house that identify where architectural features and finishes were located. Restoration plans include replacing modernized radiators with period-style radiators and installing UV-protective surfaces on all windows. Interior walls and ornate archways that had been removed or simplified after the Updikes left will be recreated.

The entire restoration process is expected to cost $300-350,000, and the society is committed to making this museum and literary site a showplace equivalent to such historic American literary venues as the Mark Twain Home & Museum in Hannibal, Mo., and the Hemingway homes in Oak Park, Ill. and Key West, Fla.

The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation is located in Cincinnati and is particularly interested in supporting projects that have to do with education.


Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 3.56.48 PMWriting for The Telegraph, Martin Chilton considers the legacy of John Cheever and cites Updike in the process:

“As his contemporary John Updike put it: ‘John Cheever was often labelled as a writer about suburbia; but many people have written about suburbia. Only Cheever was able to make an archetypal place out of it.”

“John Cheever: ‘the Chekhov of the suburbs’

The article was posted on October 15, 2015.

« Older entries