February 2010

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Mary Houck Yuhasz was a Reading native who attended Reading High School and grew up with memories of John Updike that “skip thru our childhood and touch at various times through the years,” because Updike was a longtime friend of her family’s. Her parents and John’s were classmates at Ursinus and remained friends all their lives. In recent years, Yuhasz says she began a correspondence with Updike over the old days and she sent pictures, especially if they included images of his parents. And to the Society she sent a more recent recollection of a visit Updike made to Denver. Here it is:

John Updike Researched at Denver Museum of Nature and Science

In February 1986, John Updike was invited by the Friends of the Denver Public Library to read from some of his works. In preparation for the reading, he asked me (a lifelong friend) to take him to the then Denver Museum of Natural History. He headed for the old Dinosaur Hall and ambled around, studying the names on the exhibits. After a while I learned that what he had hoped to find was a pronunciation guide with each specimen. Since this was not included in the display, I suggested that we head back to the main information booth and ask to speak to a curator.

The person I spoke to was notably disinterested in responding to my request. John stood by, in his usual modest manner. Finally, in frustration I pointed to John and said: “Do you know who this is? John Updike, the author.” That produced a quick retreat behind the scenes and a curator arrived to discuss John’s pronunciation questions.

One of the short stories he read that evening was “The Man Who Loved Extinct Mammals,” (previously published in The New Yorker). He quoted from Harvey C. Markman’s book, Fossil Mammals. Markman had been the Curator of Geology and Paleontology from 1936 to 1954 and the Museum had published his book. John was hoping to find an answer by going to the source. In a recent interview for an article in National Geographic Updike mentioned that he had a basic knowledge in “dinosaurisms,” having written a few other such stories. Apparently such familiarity had come to him later than his 1986 reading here in Denver.

There was a bit of a dust-up over John’s visit that evening. A newspaper reporter took him to task for checking his watch too often. In his own defense, John wrote to the newspaper that he was simply trying to fall within the time period that “my sponsor and I had agreed upon.” He continued that he resented the implication that he was giving “short rations” when he had spent considerable time visiting with people after the reading. Local readers, differing with the reporter, came to John’s defense in letters to the paper afterwards. In his thanks to me he wrote of “how nicely I pronounced all those difficult terms.”

by Mary Houck Yuhasz

Member Maria L. Mogford, an Instructor of English at Albright College who’s a doctoral student at Alvernia University, would like to use the first Society conference in October to launch her research. The conference will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rabbit, Run, and Maria is going to write her dissertation on the moral and spiritual leadership aspects present in Rabbit, Run.

“I was thrilled to find out that Alvernia will be hosting the first John Updike Society Conference this October,” Maria writes. She would like to set up and run a volunteer-only focus group consisting of Updike scholars to discuss the nature of leadership in Rabbit, Run. “The opportunity to work with experienced academics in John Updike’s hometown is very exciting. I would greatly appreciate the chance to use this focus group to explore my own ideas and perhaps crystallize and build upon those of others at the same time.”

Updike scholars who are planning on attending the Society’s first conference in October and who would like to help Maria can contact her directly to express a willingness to be a part of her focus group. Here’s her email: mmogford@alb.edu.