Today John Hoyer Updike would have marked his 86th birthday, and in recent days several articles have surfaced that would have pleased him enough to seem like thoughtful presents.

Yesterday, we heard from a former fact-checker for The New Yorker, where Updike enjoyed working as “Talk of the Town” reporter. In “These Days I Miss John Updike, a Remote and Noble Male Mentor,”written for The New York Times, Caitlin Shetterfly writes about her “literary hero”  whose Maples stories she had addressed in her college thesis. She talks about Updike’s kind mentoring and a letter she received from him that she still keeps by her desk. And she talks, by contrast, about another man at The New Yorker, a married man from whom she received  “inappropriate attentions” and who one day “leaned in, suddenly, and kissed” her. The difference was striking.

She writes, “I’ll be the first to admit that the themes of adultery and overt and detailed sexuality in Updike’s stories sometimes made me slightly queasy. But there was nothing in them that ever smacked of the predatory; on the contrary, it was his fastidious honesty, his euphoric interest in sexuality, that rattled and embarrassed me.” Updike seemed a gentleman to her, both in his fiction and his personal life.

A day earlier, in “Why time isn’t up for Updike,” Diana Evans, writing for the Financial Times, noted that while the writer’s stock has slumped in the #MeToo era, she still finds inspiration in Updike’s acute depictions of domestic life. She also drew a distinction between Updike’s treatment of sexuality in his fiction and the kind of one-sided, predatory sexuality that women are saying “Times Up” to.

Two women in two days, writing about Updike’s fictional male-female sexuality, have concluded essentially the same thing:  that there was mutual interest and consent, and that Updike was a master at describing the complicated and curious force that pulls people toward each other’s flesh.

If there was a more thoughtful gift to be given in this age of justifiable women’s outrage, we’re not sure what it would be.

Happy 86th.



When the John Updike Society holds its first conference outside the United States, hosted by the Faculty of Philology at the University of Belgrade in Serbia, June 1-5, it will be the largest-ever international gathering devoted to Updike studies.

Here are brief bios of the speakers, presenters, and moderators, who come from 14 different countries:

JUS5 program participants

Lehigh University Press will re-release John Updike’s Pennsylvania Interviews, edited by James Plath, in paperback on March 15, 2018. That’s good news for individuals who didn’t want to put out $105.00 for the hardcover version that was published in 2016. The paperback price at is $49.99.

As James Schiff, editor of The John Updike Review, writes in a descriptive blurb, “Once again, Jim Plath delivers a deeply engaging and important collection of Updike interviews. Stitching together 44 profiles and interviews conducted by a range of figures–-Terry Gross, local journalists from the Reading Eagle, a high school student–-Plath, who adds his own introductory and concluding observations, proves a knowledgeable and emotionally invested guide. John Updike’s Pennsylvania Interviews will appeal not only to general readers, academics, and students, but to those interested in listening to a writer who could string together sentences as beautifully as any figure from American literature. In taking its author back to the state he left in 1950, John Updike’s Pennsylvania Interviews is a homecoming story that casts a spell and radiates with Updike’s life-long affection for Pennsylvania. Plath has been a major player in Updike studies, and his latest effort should be required reading for those wishing to know more about the wunderkind from Shillington.”

The cover photo of Updike at the Plowville farmhouse is by David Updike.

Amazon link

The obituary for Mary Pennington (Updike) Weatherall published by the Local reports that a celebration of her life will be held at First Church in Ipswich, UCC, One Meetinghouse Green, on Saturday, May 5 at 2 p.m. And there is much to celebrate. John Updike Society members know only that she was an artist and a supporter of her first husband, John Updike, who read his drafts and gave him advice, and that she continued to support him after he died by graciously backing the society by contributing to the restoration of The John Updike Childhood Home, participating in two conferences (shown in photo below at the Plowville home with scholar Don Greiner and husband Robert Weatherall), and assisting scholars with their projects.

But there was much more to Mary, as the obituary notes:

In addition to raising her four children and continuing to paint, Mary served on Ipswich’s Fair Housing Committee, “working to ensure that all who wanted to move to, and purchase property in Ipswich, were welcome to do so. She was active in the civil rights movement and, in 1965, flew to Alabama with fellow Ipswich residents, the late Rev. Goldthwaite Sherrill, William Wasserman, and the late Sally Landis Wasserman, to participate in one of the three Selma to Montgomery marches.”

Mary was a local activist as well, working in the 1990s with second husband Robert Weatherall and “the town, the Greenbelt Association, the Nichols family of Essex, and with a substantial monetary contribution of their own, helped make it possible to purchase 10 acres of open meadow above their house. Now known as The Nichols Field, it is an invaluable addition to the open spaces of Ipswich, enjoyed by joggers, dog walkers, fishermen, and romantically inclined teenagers, who walk the mile down Labor-in-Vain Road to enjoy the field overlooking the Ipswich River.”

Mary’s “landscapes of Ipswich, the obituary reports, “were avidly purchased and collected, and a large retrospective of her work was held at the Schlsingler Library at Radcliffe College [her alma mater] in the year 2000.”

Mary, the daughter of Rev. Leslie Talbot Pennington and Elizabeth Entwistle Daniels, a teacher of Latin, was born in Braintree, Mass. on Jan. 26, 1930, and “raised in Cambridge and Chicago,” according to the obituary. “She married John Hoyer Updike on June 26, 1953, and they spent their honeymoon in a small cottage behind the Goodale Apple Orchard on Argilla Road, loaned to them by a family friend.” After living in New York City they moved to Ipswich in 1957 and spent nearly two decades on the North Shore together. Their marriage, which was famously chronicled in The Maples Stories, ended with a “no-fault” divorce in March 1976.

According to the obituary, weeks after celebrating her 88th birthday Mary “caught a bad cold, which in turn led to pneumonia. Whey they learned of her illness, all seven of her grandsons and a wife, Anoff and Jaime Cobblah, Kwame Cobblah, Wesley Updike, Trevor Updike, Sawyer Updike, Kai Freyleue, and Seneca Freyleue, arrived from various corners of New England to be with her. Her great grandson, Weston Scott Kofi Cobblah, was also there with his parents.

“She is survived by her four children, Elizabeth Cobblah, David Updike, Michael Updike, and Miranda Updike; their spouses, Tete Cobblah, Wambui Githiora Updike, Jeffrey Kern; her three step-children, Robert, Alexander, and Helen Weatherall and their spouses.”

Condolences may be sent by visiting In lieu of flowers, contributions in her memory may be made to the Ipswich Refugee Program, P.O. Box 285, Ipswich, MA  01938-9998.

“Mary Pennington Updike Weatherall, 88, an artist and first wife of John Updike” (Boston Globe)


All of us at The John Updike Society were saddened to see the notice that Michael Updike just posted on Facebook that his mother, Mary Pennington (Updike) Weatherall, has died. Mary, John Updike’s first wife and the mother of his four children, was a supporter of the society from the very beginning. She donated money to help us restore the childhood home, donated objects for display that once belonged to Updike, took part in a family panel at the first conference in Reading, Pa., and even welcomed into her home all who attended the second conference in Boston.

We offer our sympathies to the family but share in the feeling of tremendous loss. All who were privileged to meet and spend any time with Mary know how warm and kind and generous she was, and how helpful she has been to Updike scholars over the years. She will be sorely missed, and our hearts go out to her children, Elizabeth Cobblah Updike, David Updike, Michael Updike, and Miranda Updike and their families.

We will post more information as we receive it.

Members who attended the 4th Biennial John Updike Society Conference at the University of South Carolina know that the university is home to the Don and Ellen Greiner Collection of John Updike, as well as the Matthew J. Bruccoli Collection. Bruccoli, the preeminent F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar who died in 2008, also founded the “Understanding Literature” series of introductory critical works that is now being edited by Linda Wagner-Martin. And this April, the series gets a new volume on John Updike: Understanding John Updike, by Frederic Svoboda.

From the University of South Carolina Press:

“The winner of every major American literary prize, John Updike (1932–2009) was one of the most popular and prolific novelists of his time and a major cultural figure who traced the high point and fall of midcentury American self-confidence and energy. A superb stylist with sixty books to his credit, he brilliantly rendered the physical surfaces of the nation’s life even as he revealed the intense longings beneath those surfaces. In Understanding John Updike, Frederic Svoboda elucidates the author’s deep insights into the second half of the twentieth century as seen through the lives of ordinary men and women. He offers extended, close readings of Updike’s most significant works of fiction, templates through which his entire oeuvre may be understood.

“A small-town Pennsylvanian whose prodigious talent took him to Harvard, a staff position at the New Yorker, and ultimately a life in suburban Massachusetts, where the pace of his literary output never slowed, Updike was very much in the American cultural tradition. His series of Rabbit Angstrom novels strongly echo Sinclair Lewis’s earlier explorations of middle America, while The Witches of Eastwick and related novels are variations on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s nineteenth-century classic The Scarlet Letter. His number one best seller Couples examines what Time magazine called “the adulterous society” in the last year of the Kennedy administration, following the nation’s fall from idealism into self-centeredness. Understanding John Updike will give both new readers and those already familiar with the author a firm grasp of his literary achievement. This outline of Updike’s professional career highlights his importance in the life of the nation—not only as a novelist but also as a gifted essayist, reviewer, cultural critic, and poet.

“Frederic Svoboda is a professor and former chair of the English Department and director of the Graduate Program in American Culture at the University of Michigan–Flint. He served two terms as a director and treasurer of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation and is the author or editor of several books. His most recent publication, co-edited with Suzanne del Gizzo, is Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden: Twenty-five Years of Criticism.”

Contents: Ch. 1 – Understanding John Updike; Ch. 2 – The Rabbit Angstrom Tetralogy: Updike’s Masterpiece and Template for Understanding His Works; Ch. 3 – The Maples Stories, Olinger Stories, and Other Short Fiction; Ch. 4 – Couples (1968); Ch. 5 – The Shadow of Nathaniel Hawthorne and New England Puritanism: The Eastwick and Scarlet Letter novels; Ch. 6 – Guide to Major Works: The Henry Bech Novellas; Ch. 7- A Brief Summing Up. A bibliography and index are also included.

Specs: 152 pages, 6×9″ trim size, hardcover SRP $39.99, ebook $21.99. According to, Understanding John Updike is scheduled for April 1, 2018 release. No fooling.


Variety magazine reported that “BBC Worldwide-backed producer Lookout Point has secured the rights to John Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ novels, with ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ scribe Andrew Davies (Photo: The Telegraph) set to adapt the series of books for TV.”

So in the future, does that mean Rabbit Reruns?

Not much is known yet. “No co-production or channel partners have been announced,” the story by Stewart Clarke reported, but writer Davies is quoted:

“As a young man, I read Rabbit, Run when it came out and thought: Gosh, this is what life is all about,” Davies said. “I have hoped for a long time to adapt Updike’s novels and I’m thrilled to embark on this journey now.”

Peter White, who first broke the story for Deadline Hollywood, reported that Lookout Point “won the rights and the support from the Updike estate,” which suggests there may have been other interested parties—a good sign for Updike’s legacy.

The link to the Variety story is below, after which there’s a link to an expanded story that appeared days later in the Boston Globe, who speculate that “this may be the beginning of a new understanding of Updike—triggered by the Brits.”

“BBC-Backed Lookout Point Options John Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ Novels”

“John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom novels will be adapted for TV”


Is there anything more difficult than finding the time to write a proposal for a paper topic for an academic conference when you’re up to your elbows in class prep and student papers to grade?

But if you want to be a part of the historic first John Updike Society conference outside the U.S., there’s still a chance. The 5th Biennial John Updike Society Conference will be held 1-5 June 2018 at the Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade. Conference director Biljana Dojcinovic has announced that the deadline for proposals for conference papers has been extended to February 15. All hotel rooms must be booked by March 1, because Belgrade has become an extremely popular tourist destination and early summer the weather is beautiful.

Roundtable discussion panel ideas will also be accepted, if you and colleagues prefer to work in that format rather than presenting a paper and then facing questions afterwards. If you propose a roundtable discussion, please be sure to include the names of all proposed participants—usually four or five.

Details on how to submit a proposal are included below in the PDF registration packet for the conference. Here too you’ll find a tentative schedule of events and tours and details on keynote speakers.

Updike in Serbia registration


European Perspectives on John Updike, a collection of essays edited by Laurence W. Mazzeno and Sue Norton featuring scholars living and working in Europe, is scheduled for publication in June 2018. From the Camden House/Boydell and Brewer Spring 2018 catalog:

“From the publication in 1958 of his first book, the American writer John Updike attracted an international readership. His books have been translated into twenty-three languages. He had a strong following in the United Kingdom and it was also common to find Updike’s work reviewed in publications in Germany, France, Italy, and other countries. Although Updike died in 2009, interest in his writing remains strong among European scholars. They are active in The John Updike Society and on The John Updike Review (which began publishing in 2011). During the past four decades, several Europeans have influenced the study of Updike worldwide. No recent volume, however, collects diverse European views on his oeuvre. The current book fills that void, presenting essays that perceive Updike’s renditions of America through the eyes of scholar-readers from both Western and Eastern Europe.”
The book is part of the European Perspectives on North American Authors series published by Camden House.  It includes essays from such scholars as Judie Newman, Sylvie Mathé, Biljana Dojčinović, Teresa Botelho, Eva-Sabine Zehelein, Brian Duffy, Karin Ikas, Andrew Tate, Aristi Trendel, Ulla Kriebernegg, Kasia Boddy, and Norton.
The book specifications, according to Camden House:  309pp., 9×6″ trim size, hardcover. Suggested retail price is $99.00 U.S. Libraries, scholars, and Updike lovers can now pre-order the title from the publisher or through

Yesterday a new major exhibition—You Say You Want a Revolution—opened at the New York Public Library in collaboration with Carnegie Hall’s citywide festival, “The ’60s: The Years that Changed America.” The exhibition will run through September 1, 2018.

Timothy Leary’s notes on his experiences with psychedelic drugs; Tom Wolfe’s notes about Haight-Ashbury for his book The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test; Gloria Steinem’s letter to The New York Times‘ Abe Rosenthal; John Updike’s opinion on the Vietnam War: The contemplative and divergent themes of the 1960s can be rediscovered through over 125 artifacts in The New York Public Library’s new exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution: Remembering the 60s.

Featuring material from three of the Library’s research centers—the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Library for the Performing Arts—the free exhibition is curated by Isaac Gewirtz of NYPL’s Berg Collection of English and American Literature. It opens in Gottesman Exhibition Hall at the Library’s renowned 42nd Street Library on January 19, 2018, and will remain open to the public through September 1.

Exhibition hours are Mondays 10am-6pm, Tuesday and Wednesdays 10am-7:30pm, Thursday, Friday and Saturdays 10am-6pm, and Sundays 1-5pm.

Here’s the article from the NYPL blog.

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