Technological University Dublin lecturer named 1st Updike Tucson Casitas Fellow


The selection committee for the John Updike Tucson Casitas Fellowship has chosen Dr. Sue Norton, Lecturer of English in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Technological University Dublin, to serve as the first fellow in residence.

The Fellowship, which will be offered annually by The John Updike Society, consists of a $1000 honorarium and a two-week residency at the Mission Hill Casitas within the Skyline Country Club in Tucson, Arizona. Updike owned and wrote from the Casitas during a part of each year between 2004 and 2009. Located in the Catalina Foothills with a spectacular view of Tucson, the Casitas (pictured below) are owned by Jan and Jim Emery, who generously donated the two-week stay.

Robert M. Luscher, who oversaw the selection process, said the committee chose Norton because of the important contributions that her proposed projects make to Updike studies. During her residency, Norton will work on a critical essay (tentatively titled “Somewhere Between Feminism and Misogyny: Classic Updike on the Modern Syllabus”) and make initial progress on the proposal for an edited collection of essays to celebrate the centenary of Updike’s birth—a volume encouraged by the literary editor at Bloomsbury Publishing.

Norton, whose work has appeared in The Journal of Scholarly PublishingThe ExplicatorThe Irish Journal of American StudiesThe John Updike Review, and other books and journals, previously co-edited two volumes of essays with JUS member Laurence W. Mazzeno: Contemporary American Fiction in the European Clasroom: Teaching and Texts (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022) and European Perspectives on John Updike (Camden House, 2018). Norton came to Updike studies through her doctoral work on family in contemporary American fiction, which she completed in 2001 at University College Dublin. Her first article on Updike (The John Updike Review, 2014) was on the “regulating daughter” in the Rabbit novels. She has maintained an interest in the treatment of girls and women in Updike’s writing and beyond. It is on this topic that she will focus during her residency as the 2024 Fellow at the Tucson Casitas.

John Updike was one of only four writers to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once. He was also among just a handful of Americans to be awarded both the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal, which are presented in White House ceremonies. He is widely know for his Rabbit Angstrom tetralogy, which fellow writer Ian McEwan said was his choice for Great American Novel. Updike also wrote poems, and many of the poems published in his final volume, Endpoint, were written at the Casitas.

Writer-scholar residencies in the U.S. are highly competitive and prestigious. Details on the 2025 fellowship and other grants offered by The John Updike Society can be found here.

Updike Society announces 2023 Schiff Travel Grant recipients

Every two years, The John Updike Society holds a conference at a site with an Updike connection to celebrate the literature and legacy of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. For every conference, the society awards competitive Schiff Travel Grants to scholars to enable them to attend the conference and share their work on Updike. The grants are made possible by a generous donation from The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation. Under-40 recipients receive $1500, while the award for Member recipients is $1000. This year’s six awardees are the most diverse that the society has sponsored to date:

Townes Fricke (U.S., under 40) is a high school senior who is applying to colleges and already looking ahead to graduate school, where he hopes to focus on how literary biography affects our cultural perceptions of writers. A writer himself, he wishes to become an academic “without being pretentious about it.” Fricke also will be a speaker at the upcoming Roth @ 90 conference and is currently working on an essay collection on the history of the “Great American Novel.” At the Updike conference in Tucson he will present his paper on “Growth is Betrayal: John Updike’s Work through the Lens of His Peers.”  The title is taken from a line in Rabbit Redux, and the peers that Fricke will focus on are John Cheever, Philip Roth, and Norman Mailer.

Nemanja Glintić (China, under 40) is an assistant professor of Serbian language and literature at the Faculty of European Languages and Cultures of the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in Guangzhou, China. Currently he is a Ph.D. candidate whose dissertation focuses on the family novels of Updike and Serbian writer Danilo Kiš—two authors he deeply admires. Updike and Kiš met in Belgrade in 1978, and Kiš was the only Yugoxlav writer Updike read and publicly spoke about. The paper Glintić will present at the conference, “The Nascent Artists: John Updike’s Peter Caldwell and Danilo Kiš’ Andreas Sam,”comparatively analyzes Updike’s protagonist from The Centaur and a character from two books from Kiš’ family trilogy, The Family Circus—the novel Garden, Ashes and the short story collection Early Sorrows.

Biljana Dojčinović (Serbia, member) is a full professor at the Department for Comparative Literature and Theory of Literature, Faculty of Philology at the University of Belgrade. She has been a member of The John Updike Society since its founding and a member of The John Updike Review editorial board since its inception. A board member since 2014. Dojčinović directed the 5th Biennial John Updike Society Conference (2018) in Belgrade—the first JUS Conference outside U.S. Dojčinović has published seven academic books, among them the first and so far only monograph on Updike in Serbian, Cartographer of the Modern World (2007), as well as numerous articles on Updike, in both Serbian and English. In the paper she will present in Arizona, “Dedalus and Caldwell: Joyce in Updike’s The Centaur,” Dojčinović argues that the Joyce influence in The Centaur extended beyond Ulysses.  

Carla Alexandra Ferreira (Brazil, member) is Associate Professor of American Literature at the Federal University of Sao Carlos. In 2014 she taught at the University of Iowa as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar and later earned a Ph.D. at the University of South Carolina under the supervision of Updike scholar Don Greiner. She is the author of North and South Readings: perceptions of oneself and the Other in Updike’s Work (2018) and various articles and book chapters on Updike and other writers from the U.S. and U.K. She has also advised theses and dissertations on Updike and American authors and has been a member of the society since 2014. More recently she has been working on a book about Updike’s New Yorker fiction and has an essay forthcoming in The John Updike Review. In Tucson she will present a paper on “Brazilians on Brazil (1994): the novel’s reception in the South American Country,” in which she explains why Brazilians reacted as they did and what critics could not see when they first read Updike’s novel.

Sue Norton (Ireland, member) is a lecturer of English in Technological University Dublin. With Laurence W. Mazzeno she co-edited and contributed to Contemporary American Fiction in the European Classroom: Teaching and Texts (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022) and European Perspectives on John Updike (Camden House, 2018). Her work on writing and literature has appeared in Critical Insights; The Journal of Scholarly Publishing; The Explicator; The Irish Journal of American Studies; and The John Updike Review. She has presented papers on John Updike’s work at several John Updike Society conferences and at two American Literature Association conferences. The paper she will present in Tucson is “Pruning the Self and Asserting Identity in ‘A Desert Encounter,” in which she posits that Updike’s multifaceted authorial presence—celebrated American author and affable American retiree—works to assert individual identity, a positing of authorial presence as a kind of retort to Roland Barthe’s idea of the writer as mere scripter, devoid of true essence.”

Pradipta Sengupta (India, member) is an associate professor of English at M.U.C.Women’s College, Burdwan, West Bengal. He wrote his Ph.D. on “The ‘Hawthorne Novels’ of John Updike” at the University of Burdwan and also completed a postdoctoral project on “Recasting Contemporary America: A Study of John Updike’s Rabbit Tetralogy” while a research fellow at Osmania University Center for International Programs, Hyderabad. Since then he has published on Keats, Hawthorne, Tagore, Dickens, Frost, Carey, Heller, Yeats, Emerson, and Updike, with his main areas of interest continuing to be American fiction and Indian poetics. In Tucson he will present “Yoga and Tantric Love: Inadequacy and Futility in Updike’s S.” Set against the backdrop of Arizona desert, S. details the activities of a Hindu ashram and its sham hypocritical guru, the Arhat, who expoits and uses the idiom of both Patanjali Yoga and Tantric Love to indulge in his carnal exploits wth ashram women. A close reading suggests that Updike himself abuses the principles of Pantanjali Yoga and Tantric Love, to the detriment of the novel.

Updike Society receives American Family Insurance award

Because of their work preserving The John Updike Childhood Home and turning it into a museum, The John Updike Society was chosen as one of 100 nonprofit organizations to receive a $2500 donation from American Family Insurance and the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation.

“We selected 100 organizations across the country in support of causes important to those who matter most to us—our customers,” the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation website stated.

Nearly 10,000 nonprofit organizations were nominated by American Family Insurance customers, and the Updike Society’s work with the Childhood Home stood out as a project worthy of support. The John Updike Society was nominated by a customer of American Family insurance agent John Blumenshine. American Family Insurance is based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Here is a list of the 100 recipients for 2019.

2018 Schiff Travel Grant winners announced

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”)

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Booker judge rails against star book blurbs

The Guardian‘s Claire Armitstead posted an article that asks the question, “Do celebrity book blurbs ‘blackmail’ readers?”

“This year’s flurry of fur and feathers was provoked by a tirade from Colin Thubron (pictured) on celebrity endorsements,” Armitstead writes. “Some blurbs, said the veteran travel writer, ‘almost blackmail’ readers into feeling that ‘you’re either intellectually or morally incompetent if you don’t love this book or you’ve failed if you haven’t understood it.’ Some people, he felt, ‘seem to earn their living . . . saying: ‘This is the most profound book of our generation.'”

It’s true. There are plenty of “quote whores” out there, and not just in the field of literature. How many times have film fans seen a blurb from someone like Pete Hammond over-praising a movie that’s mediocre at best? And as Armitstead points out, the practice of celebrity or star blurbing is hardly a new phenomenon. And when a star is born, there are plenty of knocks on the door for favor payback.

Armitstead cites novelist Nathan Filer as Exhibit A. Filer said that one critic didn’t even bother to read his debut novel, The Shock of the Fall, preferring instead to quote a blurb writer who was a better-known novelist. Joe Dunthorne called it “engaging, funny and inventive.” But as Filer pointed out, “I’ve known Joe Dunthorne for many years. I think he owed me a favor.” And six months after he won the Costa book of the year, he received 42 unsolicited proofs of soon-to-be-published novels asking HIM for a blurb.

Such is literary life.

“Filer’s post produced some hilarious comments about the pratfalls of indiscriminate blurbing. ‘Probably the nadir,’ wrote Chris Power, ‘is John Updike’s for ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere: ‘ZZ Packer tells it like it izz.'”

Of course, anyone who’s read a number of Updike’s blurbs knows that he tended to blurb only those books he liked, and when he went for a pun it meant the occasion (or book) called for it.


Updike society honors retired librarian

For half of its 13-year run, The Centaurian counted on Dave Lull to scour the Internet for Updike-related news so that editor James Yerkes could keep the site interesting and useful for scholars and the just-plain-readers Updike most appreciated. Then, two years after a server problem forced that site to close in 2009, Lull, a librarian in charge of technical services at the Duluth Public Library in Duluth, Minn., began doing the same thing for The John Updike Society website.  Over the years he’s provided editor James Plath with the material to post more than 700 articles, both popular and academic—fitting, since over the course of his 39-year career as a librarian Lull has worked in both academic and popular libraries, in both reference and technical services.

Lull retired from library work in 2015, but not from Updike studies. “He sends me so many Updike-related stories and articles that it’s hard for me to keep up,” Plath said—something he shares in common with Yerkes, who could never manage to publish all of the items that Lull located. “I fall behind, and then go through my emails to play catch-up,” Plath said. “But I can’t imagine trying to maintain a society website/blog without Dave’s help. He has really enriched our society’s site.”

Because of all that Lull has done for Updike studies and for all he continues to do, the board of directors of The John Updike Society unanimously approved him to receive the society’s Distinguished Service Award.

Yerkes never had the pleasure of meeting Lull, who lives in Superior, Wis. across the bay from Duluth, but because Plath was going to be in Saint Paul for an F. Scott Fitzgerald conference he suggested meeting halfway in Hinckley, Minn. Appropriately, they gathered at the Hinckley Public Library, where one of the librarians offered to take a photo of the presentation.

“When I walked in, Dave was already there and I asked him if the library had any Updike books,” Plath said. “Of course, being both a librarian and an Updike fan, Dave had already checked. ‘Only one book,’ he said. ‘The Maples Stories.'”

Lull’s academic background is in political science (mainly political philosophy) and philosophy, and he received a B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Superior in 1970. Then he earned a Master’s in Library Science from Rosary College (now Dominican University) in 1976 after a four-year stint in the Navy. “I have wide-ranging interests with no areas of expertise, so librarianship has been a good fit for me,” Lull said. “I do have a special interest in writing and writers, though I’m not a writer.”

In presenting the award on behalf of the society, Plath noted that it was awarded “with gratitude to Dave Lull, for his many years helping to promote John Updike’s legacy through The Centaurian and JUS website.”

“If you see an article on our website, odds are it’s from Dave,” Plath said.

“I’m delighted to know that I’ve been of service,” Lull said.

This is the fifth Distinguished Service Award the society has presented in its nine years of existence, with the first one going to Yerkes back in 2010.

McPhees, PECO Foundation honored for Updike house support

Roemer and Constance McPhee, whose support helped The John Updike Society to go all out and hire a historic restoration specialist to bring The John Updike Childhood Home in Shillington, Pa. back to the way it was when Updike lived there from “age zero to 13,” have received the society’s Distinguished Service Award.

In presenting the award at the society’s business meeting on Thursday, May 25, at the Westin Copley Place Hotel in Boston, society president James Plath recalled a phone call he received in December 2012 from “a man named Roemer McPhee, who told me he’d read about our efforts to turn The John Updike Childhood Home into a museum and wanted to help by sending us a check for $3000.” McPhee was a big John Updike fan and thought it was a perfect opportunity to give the writer his due.

Since that first donation, H. Roemer McPhee III—an author himself (The Boomer’s Guide to Story: A Search for Insight in Literature and Film) and a New York investor who studied at Princeton and the Wharton Graduate School of Business—has demonstrated his love of Updike by driving to Shillington to tour the house and Updike sites with his mother and later attended the Third Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Reading, Pa. with his wife and co-benefactor, Connie. Through their PECO Foundation, Roemer and Connie have contributed more than $70,000 over the 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. With some work still outstanding and museum display cases needed, the McPhees have also pledged additional help and said they are considering joining society members in Belgrade, Serbia for the Fifth Biennial John Updike Society Conference in June 2018.

“It’s fairly common to find foundations that care enough about a cause to donate money,” Plath said, “but to have the people behind those organizations also become involved on a personal level and to be so knowledgeable about Updike that they can discuss texts such as the Rabbit novels with members, that’s highly unusual, and it underscores the impact that Updike had as a writer.”

Because of their shared love of John Updike and his works, and because of the passion they’ve shown and the impact they’ve had in helping the society to fulfill its mission, the board of directors of The John Updike Society unanimously voted to award Roemer and Constance McPhee the society’s Distinguished Service Award, Plath said.

Over the nine years that The John Updike Society has been in existence, the society has given Distinguished Service Awards to James Yerkes, for his important contributions to Updike scholarship through The Centaurian print and online newsletter; Conrad Vanino, whose pro bono work as realtor helped the society acquire The John Updike Childhood Home and who continues to act as the society’s agent; and The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation, whose generous support enabled the purchase and restoration of The John Updike Childhood Home.

Roemer McPhee’s most recent book is Killing the Market: Legendary Investor Robert W. Wilson.

Spiotta wins 2017 John Updike Award

Dana Spiotta, an associate professor in the MFA program in creative writing at Syracuse, has been named recipient of the John Updike Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Other writers honored in 2017 by the American Academy of Arts and Letters are Joan Acocella, Ayad Akhtar, Chris Bachelder, Paul Beatty, Judy Blume, Kathleen Graber, Jennifer Haigh, Lee Clay Johnson, August Kleinzahler, Elizabeth Kolbert, Robert Macfarlane, Karan Mahajan, Jamaal May, Dominique Morisseau, Lynn Nottage, Richard Sieburth, Safiya Sinclair, and Luis Alberto Urrea. ( “Judy Blume among authors given prizes by arts academy.”)

The American Academy of Arts and Letters is chartered by Congress, established in 1898 to “foster, assist, and sustain an interest in literature, music, and the fine arts.” Among the founding members were Republican Teddy Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

The John Updike Award in Literature ($20,000) is given every two years to a mid-career writer whose “work has demonstrated consistent excellence.”

Spiotta’s first novel, Lightning Field (Scribner, 2001), was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her second novel, Eat the Document (Scribner, 2006), won the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was a National Book Award finalist. Stone Arabia (Scribner, 2011) was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Her most recent novel is Innocents and Others (Scribner, 2016).

“In ‘Innocents and Others’ Dana Spiotta explores the creative tensions between two female filmmakers” (L.A. Times)

“Dana Spiotta: ‘I always think the novelist should go to the culture’s dark places and poke around'” (Believer Magazine)

Society honors The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation

At the closing dinner of the Fourth Biennial John Updike Society Conference, the society honored The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation with its Distinguished Service Award.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-8-27-35-amThe award is small, a token but heartfelt appreciation; the service is huge. The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation gave the society the money to purchase The John Updike Childhood Home at 117 Philadelphia Ave. in Shillington, Pa., where Updike said his “artistic eggs were hatched.” Since then, foundation donations have enabled the society to hire a historic restoration specialist and to restore the interior and exterior of the house to pre-1945, when young Updike famously saw it recede as he looked out of the car window en route to the family’s new home at the Plowville farm—a move that took him away from classmates and the house he loved. Because of the tremendous generosity and support of The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation, significant changes have been made to return the house to the way it once was. Updike’s bedroom has been reconfigured to its original size, with “The Black Room” (which he talks about in the short story by that name) next to it. The upstairs hallway now extends all the way to the front of the house, as it did during Updike’s time, and the living room and parlor are separated by columnar dividers, as they were when young Updike lived in the house. And the Victorian spindlework whose removal he mourned has been reinstated.

The John Updike Childhood Home is an important literary site and museum-in-progress that will become every bit as much of a part of America’s cultural history as the Mark Twain homes in Missouri, New York, and Connecticut, the Fitzgerald home in Alabama, and the Hemingway homes in Florida, Illinois, and Idaho. The society is grateful to The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation for playing such a large part in establishing this cultural monument. Pictured is society vice-president James Schiff, accepting the award on behalf of his family foundation from society president James Plath. Also receiving plaques at the dinner were Thomas F. McNally and Elizabeth Sudduth, in gratitude for going above and beyond the call of duty in hosting the conference, and Don Greiner, for serving as director.

Updike included on Boston library wall of fame

The Boston Public Library in Copley Square recently underwent a $78 million renovation, and one new feature is a “Literary Awards Wall” in the Fiction section featuring authors with a Massachusetts connection who have won an award.

“Writers like John Updike and Dennis LeHane are already up on the wall, but there’s plenty of room for future authors,” the article says.

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