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.




Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 9.52.15 AMIn “The Genius of William Shawn, and the Invention of The New Yorker,” David Remnick praises Shawn’s sharp eye for talent,

“that essential component of any institution that wishes to develop: new talent with new things to say. The ’50s saw the rise of one such talent in particular, John Updike, who, for the next 55 years, was an unfailingly prolific and versatile contributor to The New Yorker. His fine-grained prose was there from the start, and, with time, his sharp-eyed intelligence alighted on seemingly every surface, subject, and subtext. Updike was, out of the box, an American writer of first rank. He was profoundly at home at The New Yorker and, at the same time, able to expand the boundaries of its readers’ tastes. He could seem tweedy and suburban—a modern, golf-playing squire—and yet, as a critic, he introduced to the magazine’s readers an array of modernists and postmodernists, along with writing from countries far beyond the Anglo-American boundaries; as a writer of fiction, he was not a revolutionary, but his short stories make up a vast social, political, and erotic history of postwar America, or at least some precincts of it.”

Here’s the full article.


The Boston Public Library in Copley Square recently underwent a $78 million renovation, and one new feature is a “Literary Awards Wall” in the Fiction section featuring authors with a Massachusetts connection who have won an award.

“Writers like John Updike and Dennis LeHane are already up on the wall, but there’s plenty of room for future authors,” the article says.

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Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 9.34.09 AMIn a summer New York Times Book Review interview, “Cynthia Ozick: By the Book,” Ozick mentions Updike in her very first response. Asked what books are currently on her night stand, she replies,

“Nowadays my night stand is a roughly cubical archaeological mount (33 by 25 inches), long awaiting shelf space. From a middle stratum I’ve excavated the regenerative pleasures of rediscovery—all old books: John Updike’s Villages (an aching reminder of the absence of that steadily remarkable literary voice); a Library of America collection of four novels by William Dean Howells (who ought to be venerated at least as much as Willa Cather, if not more); Frank Kermode’s Pieces of My Mind (consummate reflections on subjects ranging from Don DeLillo and Raymond Carver to ‘Secrets and Narrative Sequence’). And from a lower lode, a pair of memoirs by two boyhood escapees from Nazified Vienna, marking Austria’s loss of a stellar composer and a questioning poet: Robert Starer’s Continuo: A Life in Music and Arthur Gregor’s A Longing in the Land. Finally, on the mound always accreting surface, a weighty volume turned upside down to conceal the face on its cover: a new biography of Adolph Hitler by Volker Ullrich, translated from the German, not yet opened. Will I read it? Will I? Sometimes repugnance overrides psychological curiosity, and sometimes psychological curiosity is no more illuminating than pornography.”

The illustration is by Jillian Tamaki.


In a piece that appeared in New York Magazine on July 1, 2016, an anonymous author asked, “Does Writing Too Much Make You a Hack?”

“We think of hacks as turning out slick prose bereft of inspiration. As somebody once asked about John Updike, ‘Has the son of a bitch ever had one unpublished thought?’ (The person who raised the question [David Foster Wallace] had recently published a thousand-page novel with a couple hundred pages of endnotes.) Hacks write so much that we stop reading them. In a culture still enamored of the romantic idea of writerly inspiration, hacks are only too sane, with their formulaic helpings of the familiar. Funny that just a few degrees further on the spectrum of the prolific are graphomaniacs, who are literally insane.

“But there’s a class of prolific writers who are neither nuts nor mercenaries (as all hacks are). They are the ones apt to say things like ‘I’m not even faintly myself when I’m not writing,’ as Saul Bellow confided in a letter to Stanley Elkin. Writers who follow their own star may be guilty of many sins and imperfections related to overproduction, but ultimately that output is a sign of health. ‘Sloth in writers is always a symptom of an acute inner conflict,’ Cyril Connolly wrote, ‘especially that laziness which renders them incapable of doing the thing which they are most looking forward to.’ I’d swap ‘often’ in for ‘always.’ We don’t live in a world where you have to choose between Updike (nearly 30 novels, some great, some not) and Renata Adler (two perfect ones), but if we did I would prefer Adler’s. Then again, Updike is a sign that inner conflict itself isn’t required for refinement: He claimed to be a one-draft writer who simply abandoned projects if he didn’t think they were working. Ultimately, the question ‘How much?’ yields to the question ‘How good?’ We worry about whether writers are too prolific only because numbers are easier to talk about than words and what they mean.”

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