November 2013

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Paul Moran, who runs “The Other John Updike Archive,” recently posted an entry on “Wiki Leaks 2029: Why The Secrecy?”

He writes, “Literary conspiracy theory: the Updike book on the origins of Christianity being held up for 20 years? The 1,635 books in the Updike archive are already available to scholars. Manuscripts will be ready as early as August, and correspondence will be open to researchers by the end of the year. The novel on which he was working at the time of his death, which involved St. Paul and early Christianity, will not be available until 2029.”

Rather than fuel the speculation we asked Houghton Library’s Leslie Morris. “It is true that the novel he was working on at his death is sealed until 2029 (20 years after his death),” she writes. “This restriction was suggested by the Estate as part of the purchase agreement, and the Library agreed to it. It will be open for research in 2029, but I’m not privy to whether or not there are publication plans for it—that’s a question for the Literary Trust, who administers the copyrights.”

According to Andrew Wylie, who represents the Literary Trust, “It is not another novel at all. It was the merest idea. And as for the twenty year embargo, it is simply the Updike Estate’s established policy.”

So there you have it.

James Yerkes, who for many years published online news pertaining to John Updike in The Centaurian, and who received The John Updike Society’s first Distinguished Service Award in 2010, has donated the collection of Updike books, letters, galleys, and Updike-related materials he amassed with his wife, Ruth, to Gustavus Adolphus College.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 5.47.21 PMHere’s the announcement from Gustavus Adolphus:

The John Updike Collection of James and Ruth Yerkes has been generously donated to the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. James Yerkes, retired professor of religion and philosophy at Moravian College and editor of a scholarly collection of essays, John Updike and Religion (Eerdmans, 1999), amassed a collection of works by and about the prolific American novelist and critic. Yerkes posted news and commentary about Updike at a website, The Centaurian, which he founded in 1996. He continued to update it for 14 years, until his web host suffered a server malfunction and ceased providing web services. (Remnants of the site, previously found at, are available in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.)

The collection includes signed first editions, paperback editions, galley proofs and advanced reader copies of Updike’s novels, short stories, poetry, criticism, and children’s books. It also includes stories and essays by Updike published in magazines, as well as limited editions, broadsides, audio and video recordings, materials from public appearances, and works about Updike.

In addition to these materials, the collection includes hand-typed postcards from the author to Yerkes, many of them conveying his bemused feelings about the Internet, as well as correspondence from website visitors, fascinating documentation of the cultural role a popular website devoted to an American author played during the early days of the World Wide Web.

For further information about this collection, which is still being processed, contact Barbara Fister (

Gustavus Adolphus College is a private, four-year, liberal arts college that was founded in 1862 by Swedish Americans. Located in St. Peter, Minnesota (near Mankato), the college has a student population of 2600, on average. The library will undergo a renovation in 2014.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 9.57.17 AMIn case you haven’t happened upon it yet, above is the cover art that HarperCollins Publishers posted on their website, along with additional information on the upcoming biography by Adam Begley. The publication date is April 8, 2014, and the HarperCollins website provides a detailed description:

Updike is Adam Begley’s masterful, much-anticipated biography of one of the most celebrated figures in American literature: Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Updike—a candid, intimate, and richly detailed look at his life and work.

In this magisterial biography, Adam Begley offers an illuminating portrait of John Updike, the acclaimed novelist, poet, short-story writer, and critic who saw himself as a literary spy in small-town and suburban America, who dedicated himself to the task of transcribing “middleness with all its grits, bumps and anonymities.”

Updike explores the stages of the writer’s pilgrim’s progress: his beloved home turf of Berks County, Pennsylvania; his escape to Harvard; his brief, busy working life as the golden boy at The New Yorker; his family years in suburban Ipswich, Massachusetts; his extensive travel abroad; and his retreat to another Massachusetts town, Beverly Farms, where he remained until his death in 2009. Drawing from in-depth research as well as interviews with the writer’s colleagues, friends, and family, Begley explores how Updike’s fiction was shaped by his tumultuous personal life—including his enduring religious faith, his two marriages, and his first-hand experience of the “adulterous society” he was credited with exposing in the bestselling Couples.

With a sharp critical sensibility that lends depth and originality to his analysis, Begley probes Updike’s best-loved works—from Pigeon Feathers to The Witches of Eastwick to the Rabbit tetralogy—and reveals a surprising and deeply complex character fraught with contradictions: a kind man with a vicious wit, a gregarious charmer who was ruthlessly competitive, a private person compelled to spill his secrets on the printed page. Updike offers an admiring yet balanced look at this national treasure, a master whose writing continues to resonate like no one else’s.

The 560-page biography has a suggested retail price of $29.99.

Read the rest of this entry »

lasch-thumbMember Jeffrey Ludwig writes that the University of Rochester Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is currently hosting an exhibit called “Nurturing Inquiry,” which will showcase work done by scholars who have used the UR collections for research and/or publication.

“One of the cases, which I helped put together, centers on the Christopher Lasch papers,” Ludwig writes. “In particular I filled it with a good amount of stuff related to Lasch and Updike. It features my JUR article on Lasch and Updike at Harvard, and also some relevant letters, pictures, and a brief retrospective from me.”

Here’s the link. If you click on the letter icon on the lower column, left side, you’ll be able to magnify “a pretty neat image of a letter Lasch wrote about Updike. In addition to providing colorful details about their relationship in 1954 (their senior year, after Updike got married)—the letter includes a sketch Lasch drew of Updike’s head. It’s simple but I think recognizably Updike!”

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 12.55.07 PMCatchy title, isn’t it? Sounds like something you’d hear on the playground, only this one appeared in a literary playground. And the purveyor of said title (or the flinger of insults, if you prefer to think of it that way) is Barb Johnson, a former New Orleans carpenter who has gained quick notice since enrolling in an MFA program at the University of New Orleans. Recently she was named the fifth recipient of A Room of Her Own Foundation’s $50,000 Gift of Freedom Award. Her piece of nonfiction prose, “John Updike Writes Like a Girl,” appears in the latest issue of The Southern Review (Autumn 2013).

The excerpts below suggest why Glimmer Train named her a Best New Voice:

I. In Which I Rehash the Usual Criticisms of John Updike

It’s easy to dog John Updike. Reflexive, even. Anyone who has studied literature—though not necessarily Updike—knows to say that his sentences are either gorgeous and stunning, or, you know, totally overwritten and ostentatious—awash with shimmering phrases, like bubbles that Updike has blown just to watch them catch the light: whee!  Read the rest of this entry »

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 12.26.25 PMJack Mitchell, whose portraits of famous people included numerous writers—a young John Updike living in Georgetown among them—died last week at the age of 88.

Earlier this year Mitchell (below) spoke at the Deltona Regional Library about his photographs of famous writers, including Tennessee Williams, Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, and Truman Capote.

Here’s the story by Richard Conn, which ran in The Daytona Beach News-Journal online. Above, as a tribute to his genius, is the photo he took of Updike.

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Blogger Peter Quinones (Postmodern Deconstruction Madhouse, “a blog about cinema and literature with a concentration on Bellow, DeLillo, Updike and Cavell but frequently branching out into so much more”) just posted “Tracking John Updike’s Foot Fetish – Part 1,” which includes six quotes from six of Updike’s publications as evidence and an admission that “this is only scratching the surface.” Here’s the link.