New Yorker Cartoonists note Updike-Roth connection

Ink Spill: New Yorker Cartoonists News, History, and Events posted an October 14, 2023 item about the “Roth Art on Updike’s Desk”:

“When I interviewed Arnold Roth in 2016, we spoke about the cover art he provided for John Updike’s Bech series. Last night I cam across this 1983 Time Magazine ad and was pleased to spot a stack of Arnie’s Bech Is Back art on Updike’s desk.

“On the top of the pile is what looks to be a proof, and just below it, looks very much like original art (Updike had all three Roth Bech cover originals in his collection).”

See photos and read more.

Just published: The John Updike Review 10: 1 (Fall 2023)

The fall 2023 (Vol. 10, No. 1) issue of The John Updike Review has been mailed to members and institutional subscribers in the U.S., and members in good standing have also been sent a digital version. The journal, published twice yearly by the University of Cincinnati and the John Updike Society, is based at the University of Cincinnati’s Dept. of English and Comparative Literature, Arts & Sciences, with James Schiff serving as editor and Nicola Mason managing editor.

The new issue features expanded versions of remarks by a 2022 American Literature Association conference panel on “Women and Sex in the Works of John Updike and Other Male Authors” that was organized by the John Updike Society. Featured on the panel and in this issue were James Plath, Sue Norton, Marshall Boswell, Biljana Dojčinović, Olga Karasik-Updike, and Matthew Koch.

Also included in the fall 2023 issue: a tribute to Christopher Carduff by editor Schiff, an essay on “The Enduring Religious Relevance of John Updike” by JUR Emerging Writer Prize-winner Domenic Cregan, and additional essays on “More Distorted Mirrors: Ironic Self-Portraits in Updike’s My Father’s Tears” (Peter J. Bailey), “John Updike’s Review-Essays: Educating Himself and Others on Brazil” (Carla Alexandra Ferreira), and “Updike’s ‘Wife-Wooing’: The Seven-Year Itch and the Soliloquy of Seducton” (James Plath).

Institutions wishing to subscribe and society members who haven’t received the electronic version yet should email

In Memoriam: Martha Ruggles (Bernhard) Updike

The society is saddened to report that Martha Ruggles (Bernhard) Updike died Monday, October 9, at the age of 85. Below is the obituary written by her sons from her first marriage, as well as an announcement sent to parishioners by Emmanuel Church in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. She is pictured here on the steps of another church—Grace Lutheran, in Shillington, Pa.—in a photo taken by society member David Silcox.

Martha Ruggles (Bernhard) Updike, previously of Beverly Farms, MA, died on October 9 2023 in New York City at the age of 85 after suffering from dementia for several years. She was the widow of the author John Updike to whom she had been married for over 30 years when he died in 2009. Her previous marriage to Alexander Bernhard ended in divorce in 1974. Martha is predeceased by her parents Margaret Ruggles and Frederic Stanboro Ruggles and her brother Keith Ridgeway Ruggles. Born in Chicago in 1937, Martha was raised in Fairfield Connecticut before attending Cornell University and later obtaining her Masters in Education from Harvard University in 1964 and her Masters in Social Work from Simmons College in 1988. She subsequently worked at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston as a social worker in their inpatient psychiatric unit. A long-time resident of Boston’s North Shore, Martha was a member of Myopia Hunt Club and at the time of her death the Chilton Club. Martha was passionate about gardening, holding several positions with the Garden Club of America throughout her lifetime and was involved in numerous organizations including the Holland Dames, the Huguenot Society of America and the Mayflower Society. Martha was known for her no- nonsense Yankee approach to life and people, her work and her gardens. Her greatest happiness was the life she shared with her late husband John. Martha is survived by her four stepchildren, Liz Updike Cobblah, David Updike, Michael Updike and Miranda Updike, and three sons from her first marriage, John H. Bernhard II, Jason Ruggles Bernhard and Frederic (Ted) Ridgeway Bernhard. A memorial service will be held at a future date in Manchester MA.

The society extends its deepest sympathies to John, Jason, and Ted Bernhard, and to the stepchildren and grandchildren.


Imaginative Conservative writer contemplates ‘wokeness’ and Updike

In “John Updike’s ‘In the Beauty of the Lilies’: The Children” (The Imaginative Conservative, Aug. 19, 2023), Daniel J. Sundahl began with two quotes from Updike:

“As to critics, it seems to be my fate to disappoint my theological friends by not being Christian enough, while I’m too Christian for Harold Bloom’s blessing. So be it,” and “The mature and well-balanced man, standing firmly with both feet on the earth, who has never been blamed and broken and half-blinded by the scandal of life, is such the existentially godless man.”

Mid-way through his essay, Sundahl remarked, “Of course there’s religion and then there’s religion and there are books and there are dirty books. . . which raises the question: Can one write about life, even life’s carnality and concupiscence, while maintaining Christian aspects?” He also, of course, attempted to answer his own question in a classical, meandering way, prompted by the last words (“the children”) of Updike’s novel, In the Beauty of the Lilies.

“I became fond over the years of the many contradictions regarding parents’ expectations about religion and literature, which included a smallish broo ha ha with a fundamentalist father when he learned his daughter would be reading a John Updike novel in an upper division American Literature course devoted to American Contemporary Fiction—the father arguing that although he had never read Updike he believed him scandalous and a writer of titillating, stylized pornography. Those are my words not his . . . which was singular: ‘dirty.’

“And he has a point and a good one, and I am not without empathy. As with many writers whose personal life and writings own a certain kind of ‘smudginess,’ greasy fingers on the pages, Updike is no exception. His embrace of realism as an artistic criterion (often concerning the breakdown of a marriage) is often passé these days and with gray humor. One question that emerges is whether a narrative Updike presents to his readers is a full and authentic report of human experience, which includes the particulars of the times and places of the narrative’s action, which would argue that Updike is a formal realist. Like his characters, he also put himself through many personal hardships. He had faults, and they were ‘smudgy’ and blurred.”

Read the whole essay.

Updike Society members head to Tucson, Ariz.

Some are in transit already, while others are just starting to write their packing lists. But on Thursday, September 21, 2023, members of the John Updike Society will travel to Tucson, Arizona for the 7th Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Tucson, Arizona, where John and Martha Updike owned two adjacent casitas (condos) and spent roughly five months each year during the early 2000s.

Below is a PDF of the schedule of events, including the academic sessions, side trips, and social events. If it looks like something you’re sorry to have missed, plan ahead:  the 2025 conference will be held in the Republic of Georgia, known as the birthplace of wine and the former ancient kingdom of Colchis. Follow us on Facebook to keep current with what’s happening.

UPDIKE IN TUCSON program 9-12-23

Wall Street Journal recommends Updike house museum

On Sept. 4, 2023, Philadelphia-based cultural reporter and critic Julia Klein’s review of The John Updike Childhood Home was published in The Wall Street Journal. Klein, an expert on museums, spent three hours walking through the house and taking notes on the 10 rooms of exhibits.

“For such a clear-eyed chronicler of America’s angst-ridden middle class, John Updike was surprisingly sentimental about his Pennsylvania roots. Here, one of his narrators declared, ‘the basic treasure of his life was buried,’” Klein wrote.

“In the short story ‘The Brown Chest,’ Updike’s narrator recalls ‘the house that he inhabited as if he would never live in any other’ and the ‘strange, and ancient, and almost frightening’ wooden chest that served as a repository of family memories.

“Both its hold on the author and the allure of its intimate artifacts, from that chest to Updike’s earliest drawings, make the John Updike Childhood Home a worthy site of literary pilgrimage.

“The house museum, opened in October 2021, recently added seven vitrines, with artifacts including the Remington rifle of Updike’s short story ‘Pigeon Feathers’ and the Olivetti manual typewriter he used for four decades.”

The John Updike Society purchased The John Updike Childhood Home in 2012 with the intent of turning it into a literary site and museum to celebrate one of America’s greatest writers. The purchase was made possible by a grant from The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation, which also supported every year of the meticulous restoration so that the house would look, inside and out, as it did during Updike’s time there. That foundation and others—most notably The PECO Foundation and The John and Gaye Patton Charitable Foundation—enabled the society to complete work and acquire many exhibits, while Elizabeth Updike Cobblah, David Updike, Michael Updike, and Miranda Updike contributed a great many family treasures. But donations also came from society members, Updike’s childhood friends, and members of the community who have embraced the museum as their own.

“Curated by James Plath, an Illinois Wesleyan University professor and president of the Updike Society, the museum celebrates Updike’s career, emphasizing how Shillington formed him as a writer,” Klein wrote, adding that the museum’s thematic approach “pays off particularly well in his mother’s writing room,” where images and artifacts suggest the complicated mother-son relationship with each other and their shared goal of becoming a writer. “The relationship seems to have been at once close and embattled, with the son vaulting to the literary success his mother craved.”

Updike Society members can be proud that the nine-year project has been positively received. It’s been a long journey that began with Habitat for Humanity of Berks County volunteers stripping wallpaper and tile flooring and knocking out walls that had been added after the Updikes moved out. Then restoration expert Bob Doerr and his crew carefully researched the details of the house during Updike’s time and restored it so meticulously that an older couple who had visited the house when the Updikes lived there said it was just as they remembered it.

Society community members donated Updike and Shillington artifacts and books, while Dave Silcox helped to find local treasures for the museum.  John Updike Childhood Home director Maria Lester, and before her Sue Guay, worked with Plath to move the project forward, while property manager John Trimble arranged all of the objects that had been selected for display in cases and took care of printing all the IDs that were provided and hanging all of the wall art and artifacts. And more than a dozen docents, Dave Ruoff the most senior among them, volunteered their time to staff the museum. Many more people were involved, of course—too many to name—because it truly takes a borough to create and sustain a museum like this.

If you would like to become involved in the Updike society, email; if you live in the area and would like to volunteer as a docent, contact Maria Lester,

In Memoriam: Christopher Carduff

Christopher Carduff, Books Editor of The Wall Street Journal, died unexpectedly on August 14, 2023. He was 66. According to his obituary, “The cause was complications related to a sudden brain bleed and blood clot. An extremely talented editor, he left a large literary legacy and made an enormous contribution to the canon of American letters.”

As an expert on John Updike, he was asked to serve as a trustee for the John H. Updike Literary Trust, and in his capacity as publishing consultant to the Trust he edited the posthumously published Updike volumes Higher Gossip, Always Looking, Collected Stories, Selected Poems, and multiple collections of Updike’s novels. Recently he oversaw publication of a forthcoming collection of selected letters compiled by Updike scholar and John Updike Society vice-president James Schiff—a volume now expected to be released sometime in 2024-25.

As his obituary notes, “In addition to Updike, Chris was the estate-appointed editor of posthumous works by Maeve Brennan, Penelope Fitzgerald, Daniel Fuchs, and William Maxwell. From 2006 to 2017, he was an editor and publishing consultant at The Library of America, overseeing the publication of American classics. He conceived and supervised multivolume editions of the collected works of many writers, including Carson McCullers, Katherine Anne Porter, Virgil Thomson, Kurt Vonnegut, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Carduff has been the Books Editor at The Wall Street Journal since 2017.

Chris was also an occasional but valued advisor to the Updike Society, president James Plath said. “He was a resource whose opinions I trusted and appreciated, whether they were about our work on an Updike museum-in-progress or, more recently, concerning a campaign the society plans to mount to get Updike on a U.S. postage stamp,” Plath said. “He will be missed, and his passing leaves a void on the John H. Updike Literary Trust that has yet to be filled.”

In “A friend’s passing reminds me that life is precious,” Danny Heitman wrote, “Among his favorite writers was John Updike, whom Chris admired for describing everyday experience in a way that makes it seem worthy of respect. That ideal, which Updike called giving ‘the mundane its beautiful due,’ is something that Chris seemed to regard as a kind of prayer.”

The society sends its condolences to Chris’s wife, Elizabeth Skinner Carduff, his two sisters, a brother, and nieces and nephews. See his obituary for details on how to donate to the Christopher Carduff Scholarship fund at The Columbia University Publishing Course.



Keillor on leaving home, mementos, and Updike

Keillor at the 2016 Updike conference with society president James Plath

The New Hampshire Union Leader recently published “Garrison Keillor: The art of leaving home.” Keillor, who was the keynote speaker at the 4th Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Columbia, S.C., wrote, “The pleasure of moving is the excavation of the past. I open a box and here’s a photo of my fifth-grade class, the eager neatly-combed-and-dressed boy with glassing sitting behind John Poate is me. I am still that eager boy, heavier but anxious to do well.”

Keillor wrote that he kept “artifacts of a long life. . . . I kept all these and other souvenirs. I never listened to the show [A Prairie Home Companion] myself and I have no memorabilia from it. It would only give me remorse that the show wasn’t better than it was. John Updike told me once that he rather enjoyed reading his early work but then he was a naturally cheerful man, rare for an author. Critics resented him for that and gave him grudging reviews; they preferred writers who had suffered, been imprisoned, exiled, or at least had abusive fathers. John was too American. There wasn’t much Russian or Spanish about him. He wrote because he was good at it and he knew it.

“And now in my old age I’ve found useful work as a stand-up cheerleader for adult cheerfulness, the basic goodness of life, a counter-voice to the diversity cops and agony aunts who’ve taken over publishing, journalism, public radio and TV, and much of academia. DeSantis’s anti-woke campaign is stupidity on toast; the real problem with MacWoke is its penchant for dismal pessimism, its humorlessness. I grew up with fundamentalists who looked forward to the end of the world and now progressives do too.”

Read the rest of the column.

Blogger considers Vonnegut-Updike ‘feud’

Writing for FN: Really Fucking Good Coffee, an author using a pseudonym reminiscent of Ben Franklin’s Silence Dogood (Albert Goodcoffee) explored the arguments for realism versus satire in describing a Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. / John Updike “feud” that wasn’t enough of a blip on biographer Adam Begley’s screen to make it into the book. In fact, Begley reports that Updike and Vonnegut were friends and socialized when each had second wives.

That said, “Famous Literary Feuds Through History: Vonnegut vs. Updike — Satire vs. Realism” is a good read because of the literary style undercard and the arguments for and against.

“Kurt Vonnegut was a master of satire, known for his innovative and darkly humorous writing style. His novels, such as Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle, challenged societal norms and explored the absurdity of the human condition. Vonnegut’s wit and playful approach made him a favorite among readers who enjoyed a fresh perspective on life.

“In his work, Vonnegut blended science fiction with social commentary, creating a unique narrative style that often left readers questioning the status quo. His sharp criticism of war, bureaucracy, and the dehumanization of society struck a chord with many, earning him a loyal fan base. Vonnegut’s writing was like a rebellious teenager, refusing to conform to traditional literary norms and embracing the power of satire to expose the flaws of society.”

“On the other side of the literary spectrum, we find John Updike—a champion of realism. Updike’s writing delved into the intricacies of human relationships and the everyday struggles of ordinary individuals. He was known for his elegant prose, meticulous attention to detail, and the ability to capture the essence of human emotions.

“Updike’s celebrated Rabbit tetralogy, which explores the life of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, garnered critical acclaim for its realism and relatability. Through his works, Updike painted vivid pictures of suburban life in America, with all its triumphs and disappointments. His writing, often described as soul-stirring, dealt with the universal themes of love, marriage, and mortality, touching the hearts of many readers.”

Now that the “fighters” have been introduced, you can catch the rest of the bout here. Given the graphic, website name, and Franklinesque pseudonym, you can probably guess who the author is rooting for.

Poet considers Updike, her father, and truth in fiction (and vice versa)

Poet Molly Fisk published an essay on “John Updike, His Stories, and Me” in the Oct. 25, 2021 issue of Harper’s Bazaar that shares some Updike family history and confronts the issues of truth in fiction . . . and fiction in truth.

“Almost exactly three years after my dad’s death, a short story by Uncle John appeared in The New Yorker called “Brother Grasshopper.” Everyone who knew me and my family knew that my uncle was John Updike. He married my mother’s older sister, Mary, when they were in college, and we Fisks spent every summer back East in Ipswich or Vermont or on Martha’s Vineyard with the Updikes. Each couple produced four children at regular intervals, so we had nearly parallel cousins. If you’ve read Couples or The Maples Stories, you know the general scene: beaches, chaos, shucking corn, tennis and cocktails, adultery. There were the usual family spats now and then, but as a child, I always thought of the four adults as good friends.”

But after “Brother Grasshopper” was published, Fisk’s answering machine blew up with messages asking if she’d seen the story and if she was “okay.” So she went out and bought a copy of the magazine to read Updike’s latest.

“There were all our family stories: driving home from Crane Beach jammed into the Ford Falcon with dripping ice cream cones that Irving cheerfully told us to throw out the window, so we did. There was the one wild one about Irving going missing just before my parents’ wedding and John finding him taking a bath in the brook. There was even the terrible saga of my dad’s climb on Mont Blanc when he was 20, where two of his friends died. John reset the event in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and killed only one.”

What shocked Fisk was that Updike had “written an essentially nonfictional story about my dad, changing only his name (to Carlyle), and then made him a producer of pornography. I was mortified.”

Read the rest of the article.