September 2009

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On September 24, Bloomsbury Auctions will sell the Burt Britton Collection of Self-Portraits, a collection which includes a self-portrait by John Updike. The Updike artwork is item number 155, described as follows:

“John UPDIKE (American, 1932-2009) Self-portrait. ink and mixed-media on paper. 10 7/8 x 8 1/2 inches (270 x 215 mm). signed. Updike won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1991 for Rabbit at Rest, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 2004 for The Early Stories, and the PEN/Malamud Award for ‘excellence in the art of the short story’ in 1988. In his self-portrait, Updike covers his mouth with a cut-out of his name and inscribes the picture ‘in a glass darkly.’ est. $2000-$3000.”

So how does that estimate compare with what other self-portraits are expected to fetch? Lot 50 is a drawing by Margaret Atwood ($500-$800); Lot 58 is by Saul Bellow ($3000-$4000); Lot 75 is Truman Capote ($2500-$3500); Lot 76 is Ray Carver ($2000-$3000; Lot 83 is James Dickey ($600-$800); Lot 101 is Joseph Heller ($800-$1200); Lot 102 is John Irving ($2000-$3000); Lot 113 is Norman Mailer ($2000-$3000); Lot 114 is Bernard Malamud ($2000-$3000); Lot 116 is Toni Morrison ($2000-$3000); Lot 135 is Philip Roth ($3000-$4000); Lot 157 is Kurt Vonnegut ($2000-$3000); Lot 158 is Derek Walcott ($800-$1200); and Lot 160 is Robert Penn Warren ($2000-$3000).

Britton’s collection began when he was bartending at the Village Vanguard in New York City and asked Norman Mailer to “draw me your self-portrait,” and hundreds would follow. For further information on the auction, phone (212) 719-1000 or consult the website link above.

For 14 years, James Yerkes has served as Webmaster for The Centaurian, the literary website devoted to John Updike. But the site took an unexpected arrow to the ankle and is now down. Our links to The Centaurian are broken, but we’ll work with Dr. Yerkes to try to transfer whatever files we can to The John Updike Society website. Here is a letter from Dr. Yerkes to all of his loyal readers:

“No doubt everyone who has tried to visit The Centaurian website this week was as surprised as I was. The site would not open and instead a connectivity error message appeared. I intended to update the site as usual on Monday, August 31. But my FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program would not load without a connection.

“The reason turned out to be simple and sad. The Prexar Company, with whom I had purchased email delivery along with website hosting, had some kind of server crash, I was told, and rather than fix it or replace it they simply and unilaterally decided to drop the service.

“Kerplunck. Without warning to its customers. In my case I had used the service for a decade, since moving to Maine in 1999. But in order to find out the problem and the decision I had to call the company. They explained they had considered shutting down the service soon and when their server failed they simply scrapped it.

“That I was never informed seemed beside the point to the one, and only one, person still managing their office. I was refused the information about who owned the company so I could contact them to ask for more details. The email service still is advertised online and in some formats still includes an offer of webhosting. But that now likely will soon change.

“I asked if they could put a message up on their online site to explain what happened and to allow me to post a short letter of farewell. I was told they could not do that. This meant that no one will know what happened to the site except if I find ways on my own to write to supporters of the website.

“I am writing this note for the new The John Updike Society website monitored by Dr. James Plath at Illinois Wesleyan University in the hope many to whom I referred that new service on The Centaurian site will find this explanation there. My sincere thanks to Professor James Plath, president of the Society, for allowing me to do this.

“After 14 years of working as the webmaster for The Centaurian site I am, of course, very troubled about this ruptured turn of events, but that does not in the least dim my grateful memory of the long and pleasant collaboration I had with David Lull and Larry Randen, my bibliographic and literary co-webmasters. They were so utterly faithful and supportive over the years with resources and advice that I do not know how adequately to say thank you. The site was uploaded online for the first time on 15 November 1996 when I was teaching at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA.

“And to thousands upon thousands of Updike fans from the US and from nearly every country in the world I owe an enormous debt of gratitude for their support and devoted readership. Thanks to all for all the joys you gave us in support of The Centaurian.

“If you care to contact me personally for any reason my email address remains, my telephone number is 207-664-0545, and my address is 636 Morgan Bay Road, Surry, Maine 04684-9714.

“The August 24 update of the site, David Lull informed me, may for a brief time be read from the Google “Cache” version, the link which follows the old Prexar address on Google with The Centaurian information located at the top of Google’s list. It may, however, be removed without notice when Google runs a new cache backup.

“I would be grateful if readers here would send an email copy of this letter to their Updike friends who may also wonder what happened so suddenly to the website.

“With many thanks to many thousands of Updike friends over the past 14 years,

James Yerkes, The Centaurian Webmaster”

Thank you James, David, and Larry, for all that you’ve done for Updike scholars and scholarship over the years.