In a category that can only be termed “random news,” John Updike and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke are both featured on the cover of an Iranian sex manual titled Marital and Sexual Problems in Men. Though the story is recent, based on a Tehran tweeter, the book itself was spotted three years ago by journalist Sobhan Hassanvand. Updike would no doubt be amused, not only by the cover but by what passes for “news” on the Internet. Updike’s pose seems to be from a promo shot from his collection of short stories, Trust Me. Here’s the story link.


houlonAt the third John Updike Society conference in Reading, Pa., Jon Houlon entertained registrants with a song he wrote, “Talkin’ Rabbit (Harry Angstrom’s Blues),” and at the recent conference in Columbia, S.C., he debuted an expanded video version. Now it’s online, and those who missed it can hear his take on the Rabbit novels.

A word of caution:  like the Rabbit novels themselves, this video contains rough language and graphic sexual references.

Here’s the video.

randenIt is with great sadness that we report the death of member Larry C. Randen, 75, of Rosemount, Minn. Larry, who died Nov. 4, 2016 from heart disease, was well known in Updike studies, not only for the papers he’s published, but for the years he spent as an assistant editor for The Centaurian, helping editor Jim Yerkes identify publication-worthy items. When The Centaurian ceased publication, he offered his services to The John Updike Society, and with David Lull had been finding newsworthy items for the society webpage since the very beginning.

Larry further demonstrated his dedication to Updike studies by donating his papers to The John Updike Collections of the Alvernia University Archives and Special Collections, assembled by The John Updike Society to further Updike scholarship in the city that meant so much to the author. The Larry C. Randen Collection contains items collected by Larry, including clippings of news reviews, interviews, and other items related to John Updike. While the rest of us were naively thinking that once something was posted online it would always be there, Larry had the foresight to make hard copies of the things that were published in The Centaurian and on the society website, so that even if the server crashes or data is lost (as it was in the case of The Centaurian) those articles are preserved.

Larry was a tremendous asset to the society and a tireless contributor to Updike scholarship. He will be sorely missed, and the society offers condolences to his wife, Lollie; children Christopher and Heidi; Lollie’s children Brian, Amber, and Amanda; sisters Jill and Susan; brother William; AFS Brother Hans; and his grandchildren. We want you all to know how important Larry was to this society and that the work he did lives on, for which we are grateful. Here is the full obituary: larry-c-randen

A Celebration of his Life will be held Tuesday, Nov. 29, between 2-4 p.m. at the Cremation Society of Minnesota, 7110 France Ave. S., Edina, Minn. For more information, call (952) 924-4100.

It doesn’t cost any more and it doesn’t take any more time. But once you access the Amazon Smile site and declare your support of The John Updike Society, then bookmark that page, you can shop at Amazon as you always have. The big difference? Amazon will donate a small portion of each purchase to the Society to help us continue the good work that’s being done to preserve The John Updike Childhood Home. Click here or on the banner below to get started!


After you finish shopping, you’ll get a message like this:


John Updike Society members Scott Dill (Case Western University), Yoav Fromer (Tel Aviv University), and Matthew Shipe (Washington University in St. Louis) are editing a book with the working title A Political Companion to John Updike and have put out a call for papers. Chapters should be 6,000-9,000 words (including endnotes and works cited) and follow guidelines established by The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition.

The editors are “particularly interested in engaging Updike’s later (or less explored) works,” though they welcome proposals about all of his writings, both fiction and non-fiction. The deadline for proposals is Monday, January 30, 2017. Abstracts of 300-400 words and a one-page CV should be sent to: Any questions can also be directed to the editors at that email address. Below is the complete Call for Papers.


At the closing dinner of the Fourth Biennial John Updike Society Conference, the society honored The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation with its Distinguished Service Award.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-8-27-35-amThe award is small, a token but heartfelt appreciation; the service is huge. The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation gave the society the money to purchase The John Updike Childhood Home at 117 Philadelphia Ave. in Shillington, Pa., where Updike said his “artistic eggs were hatched.” Since then, foundation donations have enabled the society to hire a historic restoration specialist and to restore the interior and exterior of the house to pre-1945, when young Updike famously saw it recede as he looked out of the car window en route to the family’s new home at the Plowville farm—a move that took him away from classmates and the house he loved. Because of the tremendous generosity and support of The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation, significant changes have been made to return the house to the way it once was. Updike’s bedroom has been reconfigured to its original size, with “The Black Room” (which he talks about in the short story by that name) next to it. The upstairs hallway now extends all the way to the front of the house, as it did during Updike’s time, and the living room and parlor are separated by columnar dividers, as they were when young Updike lived in the house. And the Victorian spindlework whose removal he mourned has been reinstated.

The John Updike Childhood Home is an important literary site and museum-in-progress that will become every bit as much of a part of America’s cultural history as the Mark Twain homes in Missouri, New York, and Connecticut, the Fitzgerald home in Alabama, and the Hemingway homes in Florida, Illinois, and Idaho. The society is grateful to The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation for playing such a large part in establishing this cultural monument. Pictured is society vice-president James Schiff, accepting the award on behalf of his family foundation from society president James Plath. Also receiving plaques at the dinner were Thomas F. McNally and Elizabeth Sudduth, in gratitude for going above and beyond the call of duty in hosting the conference, and Don Greiner, for serving as director.

This past week John Updike Society members met in Columbia, South Carolina for another highly successful conference (see our Facebook page for photo gallery), which ended with a session in which David and Miranda Updike shared and commented on a slideshow of family photos from the sixties. At the meeting that followed, society president Jim Plath brought everyone up to date with what’s happening at The John Updike Childhood Home and then announced the location of the society’s 2018 conference, the result of a unanimous board vote: In 2018 the society will travel abroad for the first time, to Serbia, for a conference hosted by the University of Belgrade and directed by board member Biljana Dojčinović.

As members chatted, a number of them were already plotting which countries to visit before or after the June 2016 conference, noting that there are often ridiculously low fares to the Dalmatian coast in nearby Croatia (Dubrovnik, Split), where members could enjoy several days before flying to Belgrade.  Below are slides from the PowerPoint announcement.


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Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 7.30.41 PMIn their September 9, 2016 issue (page 9) Entertainment Weekly ( played 12 questions about books with esteemed writer Ian McEwan, whose new novel, Nutshell, features an unusual narrator:  an unborn baby.

Favorite book as a child?  The Gauntlet, by Ronald Welch
Book read in secret as a kid?  Lady Chatterly’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
Best book read for school?  The Go-Between, by L.P. Hartley
Book that cemented him as a writer?  Portnoy’s Complaint, by Philip Roth
What he’s read over and over? A few Shakespeare plays, like Hamlet (who stalks through the pages of my new novel)
A book people might be surprised to learn he loves?  Coma, by Robin Cook
A book he’s pretended to have read?  Ulysses, by James Joyce
His literary hero?  The hippie-Hamlet hero of William Kotzwinkle’s novel, The Fan Man
His literary “crush”?  English poet Alice Oswald
Early works of his that make him cringe? “I neither cringe nor strut, but I stand by it all”
What he’s reading now?  The Age of Em, by Robin Hanson; A Peace to End All Peace, by David Fromkin

And what book does he wish he’d written?

“I wouldn’t mind putting my name to John Updike’s Rabbit sequence—in my view, the best contender for the Great American Novel.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 7.14.33 AMTwenty-eight eulogies of “intellectuals like Susan Sontag, Christopher Hitchens and Eric Hobsbawn; musicians like Sun Ra, MCA (Beastie Boys) and Kurt Cobain; writers like David Foster Wallace, John Updike and Tom Clancy; artists like Thomas Kinkade and Robert Rauschenberg; and controversial political figures like Osama bin Laden and Mikhail Kalashnikov” are included in Dead People, by Stefany Anne Golberg and 2013 Whiting Award winner Morgan Meis.

David Lull reports that the essay by Meis on Updike was first published on the Smart Set website as “Updike the Synthesizer.” 

In it, Meis cites a descriptive passage of Updike’s and observes, “Reading the above passage from Rabbit, Run, I felt like I was reading one of [John] Dos Passos’ Newsreels. But it also made me realize how much Dos Passos’ USA, brilliant as it is, is a kind of failure. Dos Passos never came up with a sufficient technique by which the bits of actual experience, the real stuff of the time, the names, the brands, the popular songs, etc., could live in the individual stories he was trying to tell. Dos Passos puts those things into his novel, but he has to keep them separate, he has to show that they are ultimately ephiphenomenal to the ‘real’ story.

“Amazingly and consistently, but for the one passage in which he resorts to that long list of stuff on the radio, Updike resists the impulse to divide levels of experience. There is a kind of deep metaphysical democracy to Updike’s prose. The details matter, the specific show being watched on television, the kind of car being driven, because those details are wrapped up in the substance of the experience.”

The deadline to register for the 4th Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Columbia, South Carolina, October 12-15, 2016, is fast approaching. Registration is $150 and increases to $185 after September 1, but members and others are encouraged to make that deadline to enable conference director Don Greiner and host University of South Carolina Libraries to finalize conference plans.

State House


It’s all very convenient and compact, with the conference held on the campus of the University of South Carolina, the Inn at the University of South Carolina serving as the official conference hotel, and the bar of that hotel open for conference attendees Thursday through Saturday.

Here is the updated conference schedule, including paper titles and names of presenters:  4th JUS Conference Schedule (updated)

Conference highlights:

• Keynote address by Garrison Keillor, of A Prairie Home Companion fame (Mr. Keillor says he’s eager to hear what Updike scholars have to say)
• Inaugural Rabbit Open golf tournament (optional/all skill levels welcome)
• Book-length catalogue of the Don and Ellen Greiner Updike Collection (free to all attendees)
• Broadside featuring a comment about Updike by Keillor, suitable for framing (and autographing)
• Major Updike exhibit (16 cases) of typescripts, inscriptions, broadsides, limited editions, two love poems Updike wrote at age 10, etc.
• Special presentation by two of Updike’s children, Miranda and David Updike
• Opportunity to examine rare and seldom displayed 19th and 20th century American literature artifacts and literary items (Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Hawthorne, Melville, Howells, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce, Heller, etc.)
• Plenary talk on Updike collections by Leslie Morris (Houghton Library) and Elizabeth Sudduth (USC Libraries)
• DVD presentation of Updike delivering his controversial talk “On Literary Biography” at USC
• Tour of Civil War sites like the State House (pictured above) 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; the South Caroliniana Library (pictured below), on the Horseshoe, was built in 1840 and was the first freestanding college library in the nation.
• Slideshow presentation on the location of the 5th John Updike Society Biennial Conference in June 2018, with keynote speaker also announced.

Though attendees must be members of the society, all are welcome to join and experience this celebration of manuscripts, research, and special collections, with a focus on John Updike.




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