Updike scholar donates papers to John Updike Childhood Home

Edward Vargo, who was among the first wave of Updike critics and scholars, has donated his Updike papers to The John Updike Childhood Home. The materials are mostly from his 1973 monograph, Rainstorms and Fire: Ritual in the Novels of John Updike.

Vargo has been living in Thailand, and the donated materials include Updike-related printed matter from that part of the world and accompanying notes, drafts, correspondences, and bibliographies. Later items are also included, such as notes and typescripts from “Whose Africa? Culture Wars in John Updike’s The Coup,” which was presented at the XXI Congress of the International Federation for Modern Languages and Literatures in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1999.

It took the Houghton Library a year to catalog all materials so that they could become available for scholars by appointment, and the board of The John Updike Society, which owns and operates the house-museum at 117 Philadelphia Ave. in Shillington, Pa., predicts that it could take a year or longer before scholars can gain access to the Childhood Home materials. Some of the items that could help researchers include letters, early notes and drafts, cancelled checks, Updike’s travel log, and numerous books that bear his annotations and marginalia.

New York State Writers Institute to digitalize writers on tape

For 35 years, “big name” writers have visited the New York State Writers Institute at the University of Albany to read from their work and talk about their work in interviews. Soon, the Times Union reports, all of those taped sessions from roughly 2000 writers will be digitalized and made available to the public.

“John Updike is in there, tucked away. Fellow novelists Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Norman Mailer, Russel Banks. The filmmaker Edward Burns. The poets Derek Walcott and John Ashbery, who both died last year. Isaac Bashevis Singer and Saul Bellow—the first visiting writer from 1984, just a year after William Kennedy created the Institute.”

Some of the earliest recordings were made on reel-to-reel tape. Digitalizing everything is a huge undertaking, but Institute director Paul Grondahl thinks they can complete the task in about a year.

Not all of the 2000 writers interviewed yielded literary gems.

“It’s this sea of incredible literature magic that happened here,” Grondahl said. “But you gotta dig deep to find the pearls. You gotta dive down.

Until then, scholars and the merely curious can access snippets that have been posted on The Writers Institute You Tube channel or keep checking luna.albany.edu for progress.


UT’s Ransom Center acquires McEwan archives

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 11.59.47 AMThe Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin announced days ago that they have acquired the archive of writer Ian McEwan, and an email from an employee at the Center confirmed that they believe “there is some correspondence with Updike in there. We will know more once the collection has been processed and catalogued.”

“Acclaimed Writer Ian McEwan’s Archive Acquired by Harry Ransom Center”

McEwan has written frequently “On John Updike,” as he did for the March 12, 2009 issue of The New York Review of Books. After Updike’s death, his remarks were included in a round-up of well-known writers published by The Guardian on January 27, 2009:

“He was a modern master, a colossal figure in American letters, the finest writer working in English. He dazzled us with his interests and intellectual curiosity, and he turned a beautiful sentence. Religion, sex, science, urban decay, small-town life, the life of the heart, the betrayals—who can follow him? Updike gave the impression he had a lot more writing to do. We are all the poorer now.”

Maybe the McEwan archive will shed some light about what other writing Updike had in mind.

The Harry Ransom Center was in the running for the John Updike archives, which eventually went to Harvard.



Houghton collection includes two unpublished novels

The Harvard Crimson reported on Wednesday that the newly acquired Updike archive includes “two unpublished Updike novels, slated to come out in twenty years,” that have “already been guaranteed to the Library for study.” According to curator Leslie A. Morris, “There will be a lot of surprises, I’m sure.”Crimson writer Michelle B. Timmerman reported that the current archive takes up 308 linear feet and that it “will take an estimated two years to sort through.”

The Houghton just requested an institutional membership in The John Updike Society (Welcome!), and Leslie Morris clarified a few things for us:

“There are two early, unpublished pieces in the Updike archive: Home and Go Away. These have been on deposit with us for many years, with access restricted by John Updike to those who had his written permission. The Literary Estate has requested that the two novels be restricted for 20 years, until 1 October 2029. Additionally, the newly acquired materials will not be available for research until catalogued, a process estimated to take about two years (some materials, such as his own publications and annotated books from his library, will be available more quickly). The material that was given to the Library during John Updike’s lifetime, listed here, will continue to be available for research until we reach the point where we are ready to ‘fold it in’ to the rest.”