John Updike: a literal man of letters

Writers write. And the great ones were often great at correspondence. Like Ernest Hemingway, John Updike wrote for popular publications of his day, and like Hemingway he was a proliferate letter-writer. How MUCH of a letter-writer is now coming to light, as people have begun to respond to scholar James Schiff‘s call for Updike letters.

As Schiff told The Guardian, “While it is hardly surprising that he carried on a correspondence with editors, translators, publicists, critics, journalists and fellow writers, what is remarkable is how often and generously he responded to letters from readers, fans and complete strangers.”

Schiff said Updike even responded to “a stranger who asked him to write a note of encouragement to his nine-year-old son who suffered from psoriasis,” a condition Updike shared and wrote about in his essay “At War with My Skin.” Schiff speculates that Updike’s experience as a teenager requesting samples of work from his favorite cartoonists might help to explain his own “pay it forward” attitude toward correspondence.

“Though some of his letters and postcards are perfunctory and mundane, the large majority reveal his attempt to say something witty, funny, or clever,” The Guardian article notes.

Schiff is still gathering letters for a volume of collected letters to be published in 2021. If you have any, send a scan or photocopy to updikeletters@gmail.com.

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