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Whether it’s home or abroad, no one wants to fly to an academic conference solely to sit in meeting rooms. People want to see some of the local sights, which is why for every conference thus far The John Updike Society has set aside one day for group travel. Everyone is still free to explore on their own, but the group day is a shared experience, a shared adventure.

Be sure to sign up for the Serbian Day Trip when you register for the Fifth Biennial John Updike Society Conference, hosted by the Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, June 1-5.

Conference director Biljana Dojčinović has shared, on a Powerpoint, a few photos she took of the three main sites we will visit this June (though of course it’s also a treat to take a bus ride into the countryside to see what’s beyond the city!):

Fundraising to mount exhibits at the John Updike Childhood Home just became less of a priority, thanks to a more than generous donation from the Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation.

The Ohio-based foundation, which initially donated the money for the John Updike Society to purchase the house at 117 Philadelphia Ave. in Shillington, and which has supported the society’s ongoing efforts to restore the house and turn it into a literary center and museum, donated $200,000 to the society before the New Year.

That’s something to celebrate, John Updike Society president James Plath said. The donation ensures that once suitable curatorial help is found and a timetable created, the society will be able to take the next step and pay to have someone qualified help construct exhibits.

“This donation is enough to get us to the finish line,” said Plath, who was recently named to the Affiliates Steering Committee of the American Writers Museum in Chicago—a recognition of how far The John Updike Childhood Home has come.

“All of our donors have made a huge difference, but I think it’s safe to say that The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation has been most responsible for the rapid growth of our organization.

The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation was also responsible for seven Schiff Travel Grants that were recently awarded to young scholars to help them get to Serbia for the 5th Biennial John Updike Society Conference at the University of Belgrade.

Pictured are the front parlor/”piano room” and dining room showing recently installed period-authentic roller shades.


One Grand Books asked celebs to name the 10 books they’d take with them to a desert island, and legendary designer Chip Kidd, who spoke at the 3rd Biennial John Updike Society Conference at Alvernia University in Reading, Pa., unsurprisingly listed Updike’s Rabbit, Run as one of his titles. His comments are incredibly insightful, starting with Updike:

Rabbit, Run, by John Updike
Whenever anyone asks me where I’m from, I ask them if they’re familiar with Updike’s Rabbit books. If they are, then they know exactly what it was like where I grew up. Updike’s father was my father’s high-school math teacher in tiny Shillington, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Reading. That the author returned to this completely unremarkable place for inspiration throughout his lifelong career is a source of endless fascination for me. I used to joke that it was like a great painter being inspired by the color beige.

But how about his take on Salinger?

Nine Stories, by J.D. Salinger
I know this is more than a little obvious, but it’s also the only book of his that I enjoy rereading. There, I said it. In both “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “For Esmé With Love and Squalor” are two very different and devastating depictions of PTSD, a full seven decades before it was a thing.

Or Nabokov?

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
As a brilliantly merciless portrait of mid-20th-century middle America alone, this book is a masterpiece. But we all know it is much more than that. I tend to see it as an intriguingly fiendish parody of Moby-Dick.

Read the full article on Vulture.

John Updike Society president Jim Plath reports that he earned $10.70 for the society just by listing The John Updike Society as the charitable beneficiary on his account. He spent no more money, and did nothing special after the initial sign-up. All he did was bookmark Amazon Smile and the site automatically credited The John Updike Society for any purchases made. $10.70 might not sound like a lot, but if all of the 300 members shopped via Amazon Smile? It adds up. Go to to get started….

Thanks to the Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation, the John Updike Society was able to offer grants to scholars to help them travel to Serbia to present their work at the 5th Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Belgrade, June 1-5, 2018.

The society is pleased to announce the recipients of the $1500 Schiff Travel Grants for young scholars under 40 and also the recipients of the $1000 Schiff Travel Grants for members to help defray travel expenses so they can share their projects in Belgrade:

2018 Schiff Travel Grant Recipients ($1500)

Matthew Asprey Gear (“Mustered Opinions: John Updike’s Non-Fiction Collections”)

Natia Kvachakidze (“‘Words, words words’ Or Some Peculiarities of the Georgian Translation of John Updike’s ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth'”)

Lynn Leibowitz-Whitehead (“The Religion of Sex: An Evaluation of Its Effects on the Family Unit in Updike’s Couples“)

Gideon Nachtman (“Artificial in Essence”: Reevaluating the Critical and Academic Reception of John Updike’s Light Verse”)

2018 Schiff Travel Grant Recipients ($1000)

Louis Gordon (“Updike’s Middle East”)

Jon Houlon (“The Ballad of Henry Bech”)

Wei Lun Lu (“Translating, Rendering and Reconstructing Updike’s Stream of Consciousness: The Case of ‘A&P’s Translations into Mandarin”)

Read the rest of this entry »

The PECO Foundation has supported The John Updike Society’s efforts to restore The John Updike Childhood Home in Shillington, Pa., since 2012, and they continue to support the society’s efforts to turn the house at 117 Philadelphia Ave. into a literary landmark and museum with a new $10,000 donation.

Society members who attended the May, 2017 American Literature Society conference in Boston got to meet Roemer and Constance McPhee, who attended the society’s business meeting. At that time they were honored with the society’s Distinguished Service Award in recognition of their continued support.

Through their PECO Foundation, Roemer and Connie have contributed more than $80,000 these past five years to help with the restoration, making them the second largest donor, behind the Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation, whose initial donation enabled the society to purchase the home. This latest donation comes at a time when money is needed to purchase museum cases and to mount exhibits.

The David Foster Wallace and John Updike societies are co-sponsoring a session on “Great Male Narcissists” at the 29th Annual Conference of the American Literature Association, May 24-27, 2018, in San Francisco, Calif.

The purpose of the panel is to explore “Great Male Narcissists,” a phrase Wallace used to describe Updike, Philip Roth, and Norman Mailer in his acerbic review of Updike’s late work, Toward the End of Time. This panel intends to explore the connections and disparities between Updike’s and Wallace’s work, especially with regard to their depictions of masculinity. The aim is to complicate and introduce new ideas to both fields.

Here are more details.

Please note that the deadline for abstracts of no more than 300 words is January 15. Include your name, institutional affiliation, and contact information and attach your abstract as a Word document. Also indicate if you’ll need AV equipment and remember that scholars are limited to one presentation at this conference. Send your abstracts to:

ALA Annual Conference information

The November 30 deadline is fast approaching for those Updike scholars and up-and-coming Updike scholars wanting to apply for a Schiff Travel Grant to help them attend the 5th Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Belgrade, Serbia. The conference, hosted by the Faculty of Philology at the University of Belgrade, will take place the first week in June 2018. The conference is shaping up to be one of the most memorable.

First-time programs always get fewer applicants than one imagines. Don’t miss out on an opportunity of a lifetime. Propose a paper to present! Up to four $1500 grants will be awarded to scholars under 40 and up to three $1000 travel-to-conference grants will be awarded to society members needing assistance. And these days, who doesn’t?

The travel grants are the result of a generous donation from The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation, whose support has enabled The John Updike Society to purchase and restore The John Updike Childhood Home in Shillington, Pa. Applicants need not be members at the time of application, but must join the society before grants can be paid.

Both types of grants are merit- and need-based.

TO APPLY:  Interested scholars should send to James Plath (

—a one-page proposal for a 15- to 20-minute paper appropriate for the conference

—one additional paragraph about yourself, what grant you are applying for, and why the grant is important to you.

The selection committee will make their decisions and announce successful applicants by the end of the first week of December 2017.

Registration and conference information

Writing for The Inquirer and its online version,, Frank Fitzpatrick relates just how big a recent high school basketball championship was for the City of Reading, what a single basketball star can mean to a beleaguered city, and how evocative the whole thing is of a world John Updike described many years ago.

In “Reading is on the rebound, thanks to a basketball star” (Nov. 21, 2017), Fitzpatrick introduces non-area readers to Lonnie Walker, who led Reading Senior High School’s Red Knights to a state basketball title seven months ago and returns soon as a University of Miami freshman for a pre-season D-I game against LaSalle “that will bring 7,300 fans to Santander Arena, a facility that just a few years ago was a lone jewel in a drab and decaying downtown.

“Residents and civic leaders have portrayed this first Division I basketball game ever here as something more than an athletic contest. In their view, it is, much like last spring’s groundbreaking championship and the parade that followed, another sign that Reading is rebounding at last.

“‘I’ve really seen so much positive activity and change since that basketball championship,’ said Robin Costenbader-Jacobson, whose Reading roots go back 10 generations. ‘There’s a lot going on downtown. It looks brighter and cleaner. People are believing again. It’s wonderful to see the city being embraced.’

“Last April, when the champion Red Knights were feted with a parade along 13th Street, consciously or not mirroring a route Reading-born author John Updike famously described in a short story about 1940s’ high-schoolers here, the population of this red-brick city joyfully amassed, as if drawn by an unseen force.

“‘[The parade] was almost a utopian moment for Reading. It was one of the most stunningly good moments I’ve seen in my lifetime,’ recalled Donna Reed, a 65-year-old native and a five-term member of City Council. ‘For a city that’s had so much distress financially, socially and economically, and all the other stuff we’ve gone through, it was a moment where everybody got together, everybody was happy together.”

Read the whole article. 

Related WFMZ-TV story: “Lonnie Walker returns to play in front of hometown fans”

Follow-up:  On Wednesday, Nov. 22, Walker “struggled in his return home,” the Sun-Sentinel reports. “Part of Miami’s recruiting pitch for the projected NBA lottery pick was a game in his hometown. Walker was held to five points and 2-of-8 shooting. . . .”

If you haven’t already pre-ordered a copy, you can go to Amazon right now and get a copy of John Updike Remembered: Friends, Family and Colleagues Reflect on the Writer and the Man, edited by Jack A. De Bellis.

The Amazon “Look inside” link gives a full rundown on the contents. The book features 19 interviews with Updike’s classmates (from kindergarten through high school), four essays on Updike’s time at Harvard and his early years as a writer, two essays on Updike in Ipswich, 25 personal reminiscences from “writers, fans, friends,” three reminiscences from Updike’s children, and a reprinted transcript of the Updike Family Panel from The John Updike Society’s first conference at Alvernia University in Reading, Pa.

De Bellis (pictured) is best known in Updike studies for writing The John Updike Encyclopedia and for compiling, with Michael Broomfield, the definitive Updike bibliography.

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