UnknownIn “The Books That Built Me, by Justin Cartwright” published October 5, 2015 in the Sunday Times, the author—a writer himself and a judge for the Canadian Giller Prize last year—writes,

“If had to pick out one writer who influenced me most when I started, it would be Saul Bellow. What attracted me was his apparently effortless ability to deal with both the comedy of human life and the serious and intellectual. I found it intoxicating and have – in my own way – tried to do the same thing. There are descriptions in Saul Bellow’s books which are astonishing, and his description of the human face are absolutely brilliant. Very difficult to do with any originality. This too I have tried to emulate.”

He adds,

“I also loved the Rabbit books by John Updike, whom I knew quite well. The best of these is Rabbit at Rest, intensely moving as Rabbit heads for oblivion. I have written many times of Updike’s realism, his understanding of America and its people with all their idealism and longing, and I think that the Rabbit series are among the finest novels of the last quarter of the 20th century. He is certainly the finest chronicler of the ordinary life of the US in my lifetime.”

Cartwright’s latest book is Up Against the Night

The American Literature Association is holding a symposium at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel, San Antonio, Texas, from February 25-27, 2016, on “Frontiers and Borders in American Literature.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 8.26.54 PMJohn Updike is often pegged as a mainstream writer, from The New Yorker “School of Johns,” but he was ahead of the curve with a number of novels and highly experimental with others.

The John Updike Society would like to propose a panel on “John Updike as Vanguard Writer.” The Society is looking for 4-5 people to volunteer. This is not a guarantee of participation at this stage, only a proposal. But Updike worked on the forefront in a number of texts.

Couples was certainly a vanguard novel—so much so that its publication created a stir and made Updike the spokesperson for the “post-pill generation.”

While many novelists plumbed the depths of myth to use as allusions and allegories, with The Centaur Updike brought myths to the surface and treated it so matter-of-factly that one might consider it an early example of American magical realism.

Popular novelists recycled heroes in series of books, but with the Rabbit series Updike did something no serious literary novelist had done: he revisited the same character over the course of that character’s lifetime in four books, telling the story of a middle-class middle American and America’s story in the process.

And there are other examples as well. What other books did Updike push the boundaries or work on the border? This seems like an opportunity to draw attention to Updike’s innovative texts.

Members (or persons wanting to be on the panel and join the society) who are interested in participating should contact James Plath, jplath@iwu.edu. Proposals are due by December 1, so please respond by mid-November if interested in serving on a panel. Spaces will be filled on a first-come-first-served basis. Indicate, along with your willingness, a few of the Updike texts that you feel are on the “frontier” or “border” and what you’d feel comfortable talking about.

For more information about the symposium (and its rates), visit the American Literature Association’s website.

220px-Alfred_A._KnopfOn October 1, 2015, Literary Hub published “The Life and Times of Alfred A. Knopf” by Chip McGrath, excerpted from a special edition history on the occasion of the company’s 100th anniversary. Since, as McGrath points out, Updike was “the last great acquisition of the Alfred era,” he is well represented.

John Updike once compared Alfred A. Knopf to “a cross between a Viennese emperor and a Barbary pirate,” McGrath writes.

“[Knopf’s] correspondence was hearty and businesslike and seldom ventured to make editorial suggestions. (A good example is the letter he wrote to Updike in 1967 after reading Couples. He called the novel a ‘lollapalooza,’ and then shrewdly suggested that at his own expense Updike hire a lawyer in case any of Updike’s friends or neighbors thought they recognized themselves in the book. Updike, incidentally, was the last great acquisition of the Alfred era, and despite their age difference, the two men hit it off immediately, not only because Knopf happily picked up Updike’s first novel, The Poorhouse Fair—after Harper dithered over it for months, suggesting first one revision, then another—but out of a shared love of typography.)”

“I love books physically,” Knopf wrote in his 1917 catalog, and “in 1965, when Knopf celebrated its 50th anniversary and was widely recognized for its distinguished record, it was Alfred who got most of the praise. The Typophiles, an organization that encouraged the appreciation of fine typography and bookmaking, published a two-volume Festschrift in his honor, with tributes from writers like John Hersey, Paul Horgan, John Crowe Ransom, and Updike.

Photo:  Carl van Vechten.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 5.00.49 PMJohn Updike’s previously unpublished early poem “Coming into New York” appears on page 38 of the October 5 issue of The New Yorker, on sale at newsstands today.

The poem is also available online, here: “Coming into New York.” Both a printed version of the poem appears, as well as a recording of Brad Leithauser reading Updike’s poem.

Leithauser provided the introduction to John Updike: Selected Poems (Knopf), edited by Christopher Carduff. That volume hits bookstores on October 13, 2015 (Amazon link).

Brad Leithauser reading “Coming into New York.”

changesevenEver since Nicholson Baker lionized John Updike in an admirer’s confession titled U and I: A True Story, the anecdotes from Updike readers and fans have kept coming. The latest to surface is a reminiscence about one particular American Booksellers Association Convention, three speakers (Geraldine Ferraro, Richard Ford, John Updike), and one joke . . . with Updike as the punch line.

Here is Corey Mesler‘s mini-essay, “The Updike Joke and After,” which was published today on the Change Seven Magazine website.

KeillorHere’s some news that ought to make John Updike Society members and Updike fans smile and start Googling cheap flights to Columbia, South Carolina.

Garrison Keillor, best known as the longtime host of the NPR radio program A Prairie Home Companion, will be the keynote speaker for the Fourth Biennial John Updike Society Conference, hosted by the University of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina Libraries. Keillor will kick off the conference with an 8 p.m. keynote address on Wednesday, October 12, 2016.

Keillor is one of Updike’s biggest fans and has often featured poems by Updike on The Writer’s Almanac, a daily program he hosts. A literary star himself, he has also written a string of books that started back in 1985 with Lake Wobegon Days.

Keillor was born in 1942 in Anoka, Minnesota, and began his radio career as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, from which he graduated in 1966. He went to work for Minnesota Public Radio in 1969, and on July 6, 1974, he hosted the first broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion in St. Paul. Today, some 4 million listeners on more than 600 public radio stations coast to coast and beyond tune in to the show each week.

KeillorReaderKeillor has been honored with Grammy, ACE, and George Foster Peabody awards, the National Humanities Medal, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters—the latter two honors something he has in common with Updike. His many books of humor and fiction include Lake Wobegon Days, The Book of Guys, Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny, and his latest, The Keillor Reader: Looking Back at Forty Years of Stories: Where Did They All Come From? (Viking, 2015). Keillor has also edited several anthologies of poetry, most recently, Good Poems: American Places (Viking, 2011).

In 2006, Keillor played himself in the movie adaptation of his show, a film directed by Robert Altman. He has two grandsons and in 2007 he opened an independent bookstore, Common Good Books, in St. Paul, the city where he and his wife and daughter make their home.

As at previous conferences, there will be books available for purchase at the event. More program and registration details will be forthcoming. Although membership is required to attend the conference, the society welcomes ALL fans of Updike and the dues ($30/year, $25/retirees, grad students) are affordable.

The John Updike Society is dedicated to awakening and sustaining reader interest in the literature and life of John Updike, promoting literature written by Updike, fostering and encouraging critical responses to Updike’s literary works, and, through The John Updike Childhood Home, preserving the history and telling the story of John Updike’s relationship with Shillington, Pa. and the influence that Berks County had on his literary works.

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Esquire keeps cranking out the lists, and Updike keeps making them.

This time it’s “49 Great Lines from Classic Esquire Short Stories”—though how “great” some of the lines are is highly debatable.

Updike’s line, at least, holds its own:

“There wasn’t that tireless, irksome, bright-eyed hope women kept fluttering at you.” —John Updike, “The Rumor,” June 1991

Here’s a link to the complete short story.

John Updike by Tom BachtellThe New Yorker & Me blog featured a post on September 11, 2015 titled “In Praise of John Updike’s Criticism (Contra James Wood).” The blogger takes exception with Woods’ assessment of Updike’s criticism, which surfaces in a Slate interview (18 August 2015) with Isaac Chotiner.

Chotiner complains, “I felt like he was always just sort of going through the motions of telling me what the book was about,” and Wood piles on:

“The maddening equilibrium of [Updike’s] critical voice—never getting too upset or too excited—enacted, I always felt, a kind of strategy of containment, whereby everything would be diplomatically sorted through, and somehow equalized and neutralized, and put on the same shelf—and always one rung below Updike himself.”

This blogger responds, “Well, there’s no accounting for taste. The great literary critic of my life is Updike. His reviews are like no others; they show how criticism can be a breathtaking art in itself.”

As “an offset against Wood’s sour remarks” the blogger quotes a passage from an Orhan Pamuk review of Adam Begley’s recent biography and also cites a dozen favorite and memorable passages from Updike’s criticism to prove that Updike’s reviews, like his fiction and poetry, was full of insights, as well as his omnipresent appreciation for language itself. Photo credit: Tom Bachtell.

It’s tough keeping up with Updike’s talented offspring, but here’s the latest on artists Michael and Miranda Updike:

This month you can see Michael Updike‘s new work at four venues:

September 10—Cape Ann Farmer’s Market, 3-6:30pm, Stage Fort Park, Gloucester, MA
September 12-13—Laudholm Nature Crafts Fair, 10am-4pm, Wells, ME
September 19-20—Jamaica Plains Open Studio, 11am-6pm, Courtyard at the Brewery, 284 Amory St.
September 26-27—Hamilton House Fine Arts and Crafts, 10am-4pm, Vaughan’s Lane, South Berwick, ME


Miranda Updike is one of “7 North Shore Artists” showcased at The Cedar Tree Gallery at Walker Creek Furniture, 57 Eastern Ave., Essex, MA The show runs from September 12 through October 26, with an opening reception at 5-8pm on September 12. The gallery is open Sundays 1-5pm and Tuesday through Saturday 10am-5pm.



2332_top1The September 4, 2015 print version of Entertainment Weekly has an interesting feature by Keith Staskiewicz and Isabella Biedenharn on “The United States of Books.”

“Which novel captures the true spirit of Iowa? How about Texas? Or Rhode Island? Here, EW picks the one work of fiction that best defines each state in the union.”

Is it any surprise that John Updike was chosen as the author whose novel best represents the spirit and character of Pennsylvania?

In choosing Rabbit, Run as the book that captures the spirit of Pennsylvania, the authors write, “Updike’s most famous work, the first of his Rabbit Angstrom novels, follows a former high school basketball star after he abandons his pregnant wife and child, taking suburban Pennsylvania ennui to a terrifying precipice.”

Since there’s no online link yet, here are all the state selections:

Alabama—To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Alaska—Julie of the Wolves, Jean Craighead George
Arizona—Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver
Arkansas—True Grit, Charles Portis
California—Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
Colorado—Plainsong, Kent Haruf
Connecticut—The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
Delaware—The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez
Florida—The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Georgia—Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Hawaii—The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings
Idaho—Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
Illinois—Maud Martha, Gwendolyn Brooks
Indiana—The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington
Iowa—Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella
Kansas—Doc, Mary Doria Russell
Kentucky—In Country, Bobbie Ann Mason
Louisiana—The Awakening, Kate Chopin
Maine—Empire Falls, Richard Russo
Maryland—The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler
Massachusetts—The Wapshot Chronicle, John Cheever
Michigan—Once Upon a River, Bonnie Jo Campbell
Minnesota—The Betsy-Tacy Series, Maud Hart Lovelace
Mississippi—The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
Missouri—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Montana—A River Runs through It, Norman Maclean
Nebraska—My Antonia, Willa Cather
Nevada—Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
New Hampshire—A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
New Jersey—Independence Day, Richard Ford
New Mexico—House Made of Dawn, N. Scott Momaday
New York—Drown, Junot Diaz
North Carolina—Jim the Boy, Tony Earley
North Dakota—Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich
Ohio—Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
Oklahoma—The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Oregon—Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
Pennsylvania—Rabbit, Run, John Updike
Rhode Island—Spartina, John Casey
South Carolina—The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy
South Dakota—Black Hills, Dan Simmons
Tennessee—A Death in the Family, James Agee
Texas—Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
Utah—The Monkey Wrench Gang, Edward Abbey
Vermont—Songs in Ordinary Time, Mary McGarry Morris
Virginia—The Known World, Edward P. Jones
Washington—The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
West Virginia—Lord of Misrule, Jaimy Gordon
Wisconsin—A Map of the World, Jane Hamilton
Wyoming—Close Range, Annie Proulx

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