Updike scholar researches Twain and Updike at Twain’s summer home

James Plath, whose most recent published criticism—”Updike’s ‘Wife-Wooing’: The Seven Year Itch and the Soliloquy of Seduction”—appeared in The John Updike Review Vol. 10, No. 1 (Fall 2023), recently spent two weeks researching an essay on Mark Twain and John Updike as a Quarry Farm Fellow.

Quarry Farm, in Elmira, NY,  was the home of Twain’s sister-in-law and where Twain and his family spent their summers for more than 20 years. It was the place where Twain said Huck Finn and all his other major fictional characters were born, a place where he wrote most of his best-known works.

Recently Plath (pictured above by the study in which Twain did most of his writing) contributed a “testimonial” about his stay at Quarry Farm. Here’s the link.

Ipswich Historical Commission approves Updike plaque

Stewart Lytle, reporting for The Town Common, writes that the Ipswich Historical Commission “is preparing to erect a plaque to honor the prolific author on the door of the Caldwell Building, which houses the Choate Bridge Pub. The owner, the John T. & Priscilla Coughlin Trust, has agreed to installing the plaque.” Pictured are Updike Society members visiting the location during the 2nd Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Boston.

While living in Ipswich, Updike was a member of the Ipswich Historical Commission and even helped write a book on Ipswich for the commission, Something to Preserve: A Report on Historic Preservation in America’s best-preserved Puritan town, Ipswich, Massachusetts.

Couples landed Updike on the cover of Time magazine

“The exact position of the plaque—above or beside the door—has not been decided. Nor has the inscription been written by commission vice chair Rachel Meyer.

“The building is already on the National Registry, but most passersby know nothing of Updike renting an office” on the building’s second floor, where he wrote Couples, Rabbit Redux, and other novels and short stories.

Here’s a PDF of the entire Town Common story.

Local TV reports on Updike 90th birthday event

It was a soft (and occasionally noisy) spring day in Shillington when a crowd of around 30 gathered on the side lawn of The John Updike Childhood Home, 117 Philadelphia Ave., in Shillington, Pa.

They came on Friday, March 18, to celebrate what would have been the author’s 90th birthday, to hear leading Berks County citizens read from Updike’s works, letters, interviews, and even poems the Pulitzer Prize-winning author wrote as a love-struck 10 year old.

And WFMZ 69 News was there to report.

Michael Updike’s newest gravestone honors slave

Michael Updike posted on Facebook that it was a “great morning installing Lucy Foster’s gravestone. This project was initiated by Dr. Linda Meditz and her students at the Academy of Penguin Hall. They found, researched Lucy and designed her stone. I had the honor of interpreting their design and carving it. Many of the design elements are from shards of pottery found during an archaeological dig of her home. The epitaph reads “Born into slavery in Boston ~ Came to her freedom in Andover ~ Known by God and her community.”

“Students erect headstone in memory of freed Andover slave”

“All invited to remembrance for Andover slave Lucy Foster”

On Rabbit’s alter ego and new LOA editions

On Feb. 21 in New York City at a Library of America event, writer Kevin Morris and Cornell professor Glenn Altschuler took the stage to discuss Updike’s legacy.

Morris, who had “adopted” John Updike: The Collected Stories through the Guardian of American Letters Fund, is the author of All Joe Knight, a novel in which he “engages in a dialogue with Updike’s famous quartet of Rabbit novels,” as a March 9, 2017 LOA website story summarizes.

“Like Rabbit Angstrom, Morris’s protagonist Joe Knight is from Pennsylvania, is unhappily married to a woman named Janice, and is haunted by the sense that his entire life has been a falling-off since the days when he was a high-school basketball star. Perhaps appropriately for America in the early twenty-first century, however, Joe is even angrier and more profane than his predecessor ever was.

“The resonances between these two characters, along with Updike’s ability to capture the passions, doubts, and longings of America’s post-World War II generation—to ‘give the mundane its beautiful due,’ to use his oft-quoted phrase—were the grist for Morris’s talk with Altschuler.

“Updike fans will be excited to learn that Library of America inaugurates a planned five-volume edition of his novels in 2018; the lead-off volume will include the first book in the Rabbit Angstrom sage, 1960’s Rabbit, Run.

All Joe Knight Amazon link 

Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy interests TV screenwriter

Could we see a TV adaptation of Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy in the future?

We would if it were up to Andrew Davies, whose BBC1 adaptation of Les Miserables is expected to air next year.

The 80-year-old screenwriter announced at a Radio Times Covers Party this week that his bucket list includes bringing to the small screen Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, John Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy, Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son, and a “mash up” of Alison Lurie books, as reported by Ben Dowell for Radio Times.

See a clip of Davies talking about future projects he hopes to bring to light.

Playwright to adapt Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius

Broadwayworld.com reported that playwright Mark St. Germain is adapting John Updike’s “prequel” to Shakespeare’s Hamlet for the stage. Orlando Shakespeare Theater has commissioned the project, and a staged reading of the Gertrude and Claudius play “will be featured at the Theater’s annual play festival, PlayFest 2017 presented by Harriett’s Charitable Trust, and is scheduled to receive a world premiere in 2019 as part of Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s 30th Season.”

The BWW Newsdesk article reports that Orlando Shakespeare Theater artistic director Jim Helsinger has wanted to produce a stage version of Updike’s bestselling novel “since he read the book upon its initial release in 2001.”

“‘Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most famous and popular play, and the idea that we can dive deeper into its legendary cast of characters is really exciting,’ said Helsinger. ‘Updike’s narrative fills out the backstory of the love affair between Gertrude and Claudius perfectly and we could not think of a better playwright to adapt it for us than Mark St. Germain,” whose projects are often based on historical fiction or fact. One of his previous literary projects was Scott and Hem in the Garden of Allah, a 2013 play that explores a night F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway spend together at the Garden of Allah apartments in Los Angeles.

Visit www.orlandoshakes.org for more information on the Orlando Shakespeare Theater.

Trump, Russia, Rabbit and golden showers?

49473197-cachedDonald Trump is in the news again (still), this time with media outlets reporting on new allegations regarding the president-elect, his ties to Russia, and a bizarre twist some in the Twittersphere are calling “#watersportsgate.” In a story titled “Americans Deserve to Know the Specific Allegations on Trump and Russia; Trump’s sex life is his own affair. But his ties to foreign autocrats—whether Russian, Chinese, or Emirati—should have been fully aired long before now,” written for The Nation by D.D. Guttenplan, the author writes about a newly revealed dossier that “accuses Trump and his campaign of knowingly conspiring with Putin’s government to influence the U.S. election in his favor, in return for an explicit promise ‘to sideline Russian intervention in the Ukraine as a campaign issue.'” The dossier also contained information of a more personal nature, that had some wondering whether it was appropriate for public dissemination.

“But once the dossier was in circulation, among not only reporters on the intelligence and campaign beats but also politicians, intelligence officials, and law-enforcement agents—with President Obama and President-elect Trump both given official briefings on its contents—then yes, the people do have a right to know not just in summary terms but in detail what has been alleged. Even when those details include sexual conduct that many Americans (and the British daytime-television audience) might find shocking—unless, that is, they were fans of John Updike’s Rabbit Is Rich, which introduced “golden showers” into the (pardon the expression) mainstream way back in 1981.

“Diverting as the details are—and given what Trump has not just admitted but boasted of doing in the past, such practices, even if true and captured for posterity by the FSB, are hardly likely to disqualify him—the central questions remain fundamentally political. Because Trump’s resemblance to a broken clock—right about the need to restore American manufacturing, and to seek common ground with Russia on issues ranging from Iran to nuclear proliferation to combating ISIS; wrong on just about everything else—isn’t just a problem for the left. Bernie Sanders seems to have figured out a way to challenge Trump without playing into the narrative of elitist derision; the rest of us are still struggling.”

Anyone struggling to grasp the meaning of the expression “golden showers” might turn to an article written for The Daily Beast on “Wet and Wild: The History of ‘Golden Showers’; ‘Germaphobe’ Donald Trump denied being turned on by ‘golden showers.’ But the sexual practice has an endless stream of other fans.” In it, Lizzie Crocker writes,

“At the end of John Updike’s Rabbit Is Rich, the novel’s prejudiced, patriotic, angsty, lust-crazed protagonist urinates on his wife’s friend—who, in turn, urinates on him—during a vacation to Puerto Rico.

“The golden shower is an unorthodox sexual activity even for Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom, whose very nickname evokes an impulsive, frenetic creature with an undiscerning sexual appetite.

“President-elect Trump has insisted he’s never read the book, but given his contempt for the truth and the now-infamous, unverified report that he enjoys being peed on, one wonders if our soon-to-be POTUS’s particular sexual proclivity was inspired by Updike’s fictional American everyman?”


Updike letters to be published

The John H. Updike Literary Trust announced yesterday that James Schiff will edit a volume of John Updike’s letters, with a target completion date of 2020. A publisher has not yet been named.

schiff-130x150Anyone familiar with Updike studies knows that this is good news on several counts. The decision to release a collection of letters comes after years of the Literary Trust saying it would not permit them to be published. The reversal opens the door to not just a single published volume, but more, as happened in Hemingway studies when an initial Selected Letters edited by Princeton scholar Carlos Baker led to several thematic volumes of correspondence before the complete letters were (and are still being) published in a multi-volume set. Updike, like Hemingway, was a prolific letter-writer who was generous with his comments, producing hundreds of what are typically described in the autograph world as “content letters.” A volume of published letters always sparks new reader interest in an author and gives scholars additional material with which to work and find inspiration for new insights, essays, and books.

It’s also good news that James Schiff was chosen to edit the volume. As editor of The John Updike Review and cofounder and current vice-president of The John Updike SocietySchiff is well positioned to collect and edit the interviews. An associate professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, Schiff is also known in the Updike world for his three books: Updike’s Version: Rewriting the Scarlet Letter (1992), John Updike Revisited (1998), and Updike in Cincinnati: A Literary Performance (2007).

“Updike was a masterful and prolific letter writer, and so it pleases me greatly to be working on this project,” said Schiff, who has already begun collection letters from institutional libraries and requesting them from private owners and recipients. The letters span six decades of Updike’s life, from his teens in postwar rural Pennsylvania to his seventies, when he was revered as one of America’s most accomplished and honored men of letters.

“Collecting the staggering number of extant letters will take time,” Schiff said. “Yet it is already clear that these writings have literary and biographical significance. Updike is a major figure in American literature, and his letters reveal yet another aspect of his literary genius.”

Schiff said he would be grateful to hear from anyone in possession of Updike’s correspondence. He can be reached at james.schiff@uc.edu or updikeletters@gmail.com.

David Updike on The Maples Stories

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 7.26.57 AMDavid Updike “shared the story of a summer in his life, as pieced together from various books written by his father, John,” Gerold Shelton wrote in a Dispatch-Argus story. Although his father drew heavily on his own life for his fiction, Updike told an audience at Augustana College that determining what’s real and what’s invented about his family’s past in The Maples Stories (first published in paperback as Too Far to Go) is difficult.

“I think it’s true in its essence,” he said, “but not in its details.”

Updike, who has had two short story collections of his own published, was quoted as saying that having a famous writer for a father meant that he could get his manuscript read right away. “I think it was helpful initially, but maybe a bit distracting later one. Overall, it has been a positive influence.”