January 2016

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Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 7.39.15 AMThe John Updike Society has proposed to sponsor a panel on “Updike in Context” at this year’s American Literature Association Conference in San Francisco.

Chair: Judith Newman, University of Nottingham

“What Does Secularism Smell Like? Political Theology and John Updike’s The Coup,” Scott Dill, Case Western Reserve University

“After the Thrill Is Gone: Updike after the Cold War,” Matthew Shipe, Washington University

“Updike’s Visions of the South: From the U.S. South in The Poorhouse Fair toward the Postcolonial Caribbean South,” Takashi Nakatani, Yokohama City University

ALA has a committee that reviews all proposals and we should be hearing from them shortly.

Yesterday The Christian Science Monitor printed a piece titled “My ‘Updike year’—why I appreciate the man more now than ever” in its Books/Chapter & Verse section. In it, Danny Heitman writes that he had made it a point to read as many of John Updike’s books as he could in 2015, but, being a slow reader, he “managed to read only a fraction of the Updike canon, poking around mostly in the personal essays and criticism collected in a half a dozen volumes, including Odd Jobs, Hugging the Shore and Picked-up Pieces.”

About the experience, he writes, “What I remember most vividly from my year of Updike isn’t a particular subject or turn of phrase; he wrote about everything from baseball to cemeteries to the postal service with precision, wit, and a mastery of language that defies easy summary. No, the most abiding memory of my Updike year is the heroic moderation of the man—his quiet insistence on teasing out an insight with subtlety and grace, never raising his voice. . . .

“That voice continues to be a tonic for me as I negotiate the noise of the headlines, the extremism of the political culture, the venom-tinged pronouncements of the Twittersphere. Updike’s been gone for seven years now, but his work endures, and we need it now more than ever.”

Heitman is a columnist for The Advocate newspaper in Louisiana and the author of A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 8.11.18 AMTwo essays on Updike scholarship have come to our attention, one newly discovered and the other newly published:

Newly discovered:

“Fire, Sun, Moon: Kundalini Yoga in John Updike’s S.: A Novel,” by Sukhbir Singh, in The Comparatist 38 (October 2014): 266-96, published by The University of North Carolina Press. Full text

Newly published:

“Modernist Narrative Techniques and Challenges of Humanity: John Updike in European Perspective,” by Biljana Dojčinović, in From Humanism to Meta-, Post- and Transhumanism Vol. 8. Ed. Irina Deretic and Stefan Lorenz Sorgner. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2016. Synopsis-Contents




Today, Jan. 25, 2016, Boston Globe Columnist Alex Beam considered Updike’s last poem, “Fine Point,” a meditation on the 23rd Psalm and interviewed Martha and David Updike to ask them about John’s belief in God and the hereafter.

According to Martha, in hospice care “he always had the Book of Common Prayer on our bed—he knew it very well.” She added, “John always believed that there was evidence of God’s work in the world.”

David, meanwhile, was quoted as saying, “I certainly think he wanted to believe, have complete faith, but there remained a seed of doubt, or fear.”

Here’s a link to the whole column and a spin-off story on WBGH News.

PottsGeraldCLR_20160120We are saddened to report the sudden death January 18, 2016 of Gerald R. “Gerry” Potts, a  classmate of John Updike’s who was a four-sport athlete at Shillington High School (football, basketball, track, and baseball). He was 85.

Potts, who graduated ahead of Updike and the Class of 1950, kept in touch with Updike later in life, especially after the Reading Eagle published a story naming him as a possible model for Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Updike sent him a postcard saying, no, he wasn’t, and Potts, who believed in the society’s mission, donated his Updike letters to the Updike archive at Alvernia several years ago.

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 8.44.40 AMPotts retired in 1980 but has been an active community member for all of his life, serving on the Shillington Borough Council, the Shillington Zoning and Planning Commission, and the Governor Mifflin School Board, among other organizations.

Here is his obituary. Potts is pictured (left) on his front porch in 2011 with Dave Silcox, Updike’s Shillington contact in whose dining room the first formative meeting of the society took place. The society offers sincere condolences to his wife, Shirley, and children Lori, Richard, and Andrew, all of Shillington.

Services will be 9:30 a.m. at the Edward J. Kuhn Funeral Home, 739 Penn Ave., West Reading. Contributions may be made to Governor Mifflin School District, ℅ Funds for Future Athletic Endeavors, Attn: Pat Tulley, Athletic Director, 10 S. Waverly St., Shillington, PA  19607.

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 7.34.29 PMEntertainment Weekly often finds ways to enliven interviews, and in “Books of My Life: Elizabeth Strout on Madame Bovary, The Journals of John Cheever, and other favorites,” writer Isabella Biedenharn asked Strout to name the book she loved in school (Madame Bovary), a novel she read in secret (The Man Who Had Everything), the book that “cemented” her as a writer (the works of Alice Munro and William Trevor), the book that changed her life (The Journals of John Cheever), a classic she’s never read (The Grapes of Wrath), and her favorite book as a child:

Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories, by John Updike. For each answer she offers a brief explanation, and here’s what she had to say about the Updike book:

“I was probably around 8 when I found a copy of it on our coffee table. I am sure much of it I didn’t understand, but I had a real sense that this was how grown-ups were, and I was thrilled by it.”

Strout is the author of such books as My Name Is Lucy Barton: A Novel, (2016), The Burgess Boys: A Novel (2014), Olive Kitteridge (2008), Abide with Me: A Novel (2007), and Amy and Isabelle: A Novel (2000).

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 8.56.22 AMIn the online “Books: The gift I’ll never forget” section of The Guardian, Sloane Crosley recently shared “The book that reminded me America could be magical too.”

It was 1999 and Crosley, who was studying in Scotland and reluctant to leave, recalled how she “fell in love with Edinburgh so intensely” that she “literally fell (first night, Victoria Street, knees skinned). A magical place that smells of salt, hops and sewage, and features a sizable castle sticking up in the middle, Edinburgh was mind-blowing to a young American.”

She talks about how her parents, never good gift-givers, found the perfect way to welcome her home. “There, waiting on my bed, was a 775-page brick of a book. The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike and inscribed by my father: ‘Welcome to America – we’re not so bad.’

“I had not spoken to my parents about how sad I was to leave Scotland. I had barely spoken to them about how much I loved it. But still, they knew. Not only that, they acted on that knowing without laundering it through their own impulses. They did not buy me thistle-patterned linens or play bagpipe recordings. This was a gift truly for me; 100 reminders of why home was still beautiful and funny and complex.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 8.38.20 AMOn a blog post from Commonweal‘s Rand Richards Cooper we get “Staff Picks: The Poetry of John Updike.” John Updike: Selected Poems was one of his 2015 favorites.

“A book I’m glad to have read this year. . . . It brings me back to a day thirty years ago, when I took a bus out to Seton Hall University to hear Updike read. In a smallish lecture room he stood behind a lectern and, in a quiet voice adorned with the slightest lisp, he read . . . poems. The audience was surprised and perhaps a bit restive. Turns out Updike had agreed to do the reading only on the condition that it be poetry and not prose,” Cooper writes.

“Like his prose, Updike’s poetry—much of it written in variations on the sonnet—highlights his skill in noticing the world, and his life in it, in trenchant and surprising ways. The poems convey wry humor, exquisite attentiveness to daily life, and an abiding preoccupation with mortality and time.”


Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 5.00.49 PMJohn Updike’s Selected Poems made the list of “10 Books We Loved in 2015” by PBS NewsHour.

“John Updike: Selected Poems,” edited by Christopher Carduff
Mike Melia, senior broadcast producer

“He’s one of the most prolific American writers, but John Updike was not known as a poet. His novels, stories and essays fill volumes. Now, there is a new collection of his verse. A highlight, for me, is ‘Endpoint,’ a series of poems written in the last years of his life. They may be my favorite things he ever wrote. Here’s a stanza from ‘Spirit of 76’:

Be with me, words, a little longer; you
have given me my quitclaim in the sun,
sealed shut my adolescent wounds, made light
of grownup troubles, turned to my advantage
what in most lives would be pure deficit,
and formed, of those I loved, more solid ghosts.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 7.39.15 AM


Last year in Boston The John Updike Society sponsored two panels, and we hope to get enough participants for two this year as well. Young scholars especially are encouraged to submit proposals or short abstracts. ALA is a great chance to network, to get a taste of what other societies are doing, and to meet fellow Updike enthusiasts. And yes, to get your foot in the academic door.

This year’s ALA will be held May 26-29 at the Hyatt Regency, 5 Embarcadero, in San Francisco, Calif. The hotel is right by a cable car stop, within walking distance of Chinatown, and a few blocks away from a bus route that takes you to all the piers, including the jumping off points for the Golden Gate Bridge park and Alcatraz.

Any topic is suitable, even comparative studies. The society must send a final program to ALA by January 30, so to give us time to do that we need to receive all proposals and abstracts by January 20. Everyone who presents must register for the conference.

Send abstracts or proposals to James Plath, jplath@iwu.edu.