March 2011

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The syllabus for a third-year course (EH4016) on “State of the Union: American Literature since 1890” being taught at the University of Limmerick (Ireland) requires students to read five novels. One of them is John Updike’s Rabbit, Run. The others are Don DeLillo’s White Noise, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and  John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. No Hemingway and Faulkner, you may ask? Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” did make the syllabus, as did Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” along with short stories from James Baldwin, Flannery O’Connor, and Raymond Carver, and poems from Allen Ginsberg and Harlem Renaissance poets.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters announced on March 22, 2011 the winners of their annual literature awards—including the inaugural John Updike Award, a  $20,000 prize established by Mrs. John Updike in memory of her husband. The award will be given biennially to a writer “in mid-career who has demonstrated consistent excellence.” The Academy’s 250 members nominate candidates, and a rotating committee of writers selects the winners. This year’s committee members were Paula Fox, Philip Levine, Romulus Linney, Alison Lurie, and Joy Williams.

The committee selected Tom Sleigh, who teaches poetry at Hunter College, as the first John Updike Award recipient. Like Updike, Sleigh writes in multiple genres, but he is perhaps best known for his seven books of poetry and his plays, five of which have been produced. Sleigh publishes frequently in The New Yorker and has won numerous literary prizes, including the Kingsley Tufts Award for poetry (a $100,000 prize). Here’s a link to “Hunter-Gatherer,” which appeared in the September 17, 2009 New Yorker. His most recent collection is Army Cats: Poems (Graywolf Press, 2011).

The Knopf PR people may be on vacation, but we learned from bibliographers Michael Broomfield and Jack De Bellis’ Knopf contact that Higher Gossip is estimated at 512 pages—roughly the same size as Hugging the Shore—and it’s priced at $40. Christopher Carduff compiled and edited the volume, which is divided into five sections:

“Real Conversation” consists of two previously published personal essays, one previously published humorous piece, three previously published short fictions, and six poems (“The Lovelorn Astronomer,” “Basium XVI,” “Head of a Girl, at the Met,” “Cafeteria, Mass. General Hospital,” “An Hour Without Color,” and “Not Cancelled Yet.”

“Book Chat” includes three speeches (“Humor in Fiction,” “The Plight of the American Writer,” and “The Written Word”); tributes to Kierkegaard, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Sissman, and Carver; three forewords/afterwords; and 15 book reviews.

“Gallery Tours” features 20 essays on art, and “Pet Topics” contains three previously published essays on science, six musings on Massachusetts (including “Harvard Square in the Fifties,” “Ipswich in the Seventies,” and “Memoirs of a Massachusetts Golfer”), and five post-Golf Dreams writings on golf.

“Table Talk” is the ephemeral category, including remarks made at book conventions, short musing, forewords, addresses, letters, prefaces, notes, and a humorous piece on “The original ending of Self-Consciousness.

Today would have been John Updike’s 79th birthday. It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since his passing..

In February, 2009, Charles Osgood paid tribute to Updike in a nice CBS video look back at his career, including interview clips. It bears re-watching, especially today. Here’s the link.