The John Updike Society was officially launched on May 24, 2009 at the 20th Annual American Literature Association Conference in Boston with 35 members—known Updike scholars who had been sent an email by James Plath. Planning for the launch took place earlier that year. Gathered in Shillington for an Updike tribute at the Reading Public Library, scholars James Plath, James Schiff, Jack De Bellis, and Updike’s Shillington contact Dave Silcox sat around Silcox’s dining room table some seven blocks from Updike’s childhood home to discuss the debut. The first roundtable, “John Updike: Fifty Years of Literary Influence,” was moderated by Plath and featured panelists Marshall Boswell, Lawrence Broer, De Bellis, and Schiff. At the first business meeting, which immediately followed, members approved a mission statement and bylaws, then elected Plath as president/director, Schiff as vice president/director and editor of The John Updike Review, Peter Bailey as secretary/director, and Marshall Boswell, Jack De Bellis, Judith Newman, and David Parker Royal as the remaining directors on the board. Pictured (l to r) are Royal, Schiff, De Bellis, Plath, Boswell, and Bailey. A previous, short-lived incarnation of an Updike society had been organized in the 1970s, with early Updike scholars such as Joyce Markle, George Hunt, Michael Olivas, and Robert Detweiler leading the way.
The John Updike Society is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization incorporated in the State of Illinois for educational purposes. The Society, which has members in 18 countries and 35 states, is dedicated to awakening and sustaining reader interest in the literature and life of John Updike, promoting literature written by Updike, fostering and encouraging critical responses to Updike’s literary works, and, through The John Updike Childhood Home, preserving the history and telling the story of John Updike’s relationship with Shillington, Pa. and the influence that Berks County had on his literary works. Membership is open to anyone.
—With the University of Cincinnati the Society co-sponsors the biannual refereed/peer-reviewed critical journal, The John Updike Review. Membership in the society includes a subscription to the journal; institutional subscriptions are also available.
—The Society hosts biennial conferences in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and other places Updike visited or spent time. The upcoming 7th Biennial JUS Conference will be held in Tucson, Ariz., where the Updikes owned a condo. In 2025 the Society will travel to the Republic of Georgia, and the Society is currently considering New York City as the destination for 2027.
—As a member of the American Literature Association, the Society sponsors 1-2 sessions at every annual ALA conference and sometimes contributes to regional ALA symposiums.
—The Society purchased, restored, and turned The John Updike Childhood Home at 117 Philadelphia Ave. in Shillington into a museum and literary center. Now the JU Childhood Home is an affiliate of the American Writers Museum’s in Chicago and a member of Berks Heritage Council, Lehigh Valley Passport to History, Pennsylvania’s Americana Region, and Shillington Business Association. Under the directorship of Maria Lester, the JU Childhood Home has become an active site for classroom visits; an ongoing partnership with Governor Mifflin School District includes a victory garden maintained by students.
—The Society sponsors a number of Grants, Scholarships & Awards to promote continued interest in Updike’s work.
May 24, 2009—The John Updike Society is launched at the 20th Annual American Literature Conference in Boston with 35 members and an elected board consisting of James Plath, James Schiff, Jack De Bellis, Marshall Boswell, Peter J. Bailey, Judith Newman, and Derek Parker Royal.
December 1, 2009—The Society gets its 100th member.
December 17, 2009—The Society is incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in the State of Illinois, organized for educational purposes.
September 29, 2010—It’s announced that a John Updike Society Archive will be established at Alvernia University in Reading, Pa., Updike’s birthplace. The society would later donate that archive to Alvernia as part of an ongoing partnership begun by Alvernia president Tom Flynn and communications professor Susan Guay.
October 1-3, 2010—Members gather for the 1st Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Reading, Pa., hosted by Alvernia University, an early booster of the organization. Keynote speakers: Ann Beattie and Lincoln Perry.
November 1, 2011—Under the editorship of James Schiff, The John Updike Review is launched, published by the University of Cincinnati and The John Updike Society, with Volume 1, Number 1 mailed to members.
December, 2011—Alvernia University assumes ownership of the John Updike Society Archive, featuring three collections that the society had acquired: The Dave Silcox/Thelma Lewis Collection, The Rachael C. Burchard Papers, and The Larry C. Randen Collection. The collection is renamed The John Updike Collections of the Alvernia University Archives and Special Collections.
February 24, 2012—The John Updike Society receives tax-exempt status as a non-profit public charity under section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
June 13-16, 2012—The 2nd Biennial John Updike Society Conference is held in Boston, Mass., hosted by Suffolk University. A highlight is a tour of the house where Updike lived with his family in during the years he became famous, hosted by first wife Mary Pennington Updike Weatherall. Keynote speaker: Joyce Carol Oates.
August 27, 2012—The John Updike Society purchases the childhood home at 117 Philadelphia Avenue in Shillington, Pa., with plans to turn it into a museum. The purchase is made possible by a generous donation from The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation and with the assistance of local realtor Conrad Vanino, Jr., who works pro bono.
October 1-4, 2014—The Third Biennial John Updike Society Conference is held in Reading, Pa., hosted by Alvernia University and with a closing banquet at the historic Abraham Lincoln Hotel, where Updike and his Shillington High School classmates celebrated their 25th reunion. Keynote speakers: Adam Begley and Chip Kidd.
July 16, 2015—The society contracts R.J.Doerr Co. of Easton, Pa. to handle the restoration of The John Updike Childhood Home. Doerr’s resume includes restoring the home of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The restoration will take three years.
October, 2015—With the acquisition of a sideboard that belonged to Updike’s art teacher and across-the-street neighbor Clint Shilling, the society begins actively seeking donations for The John Updike Childhood Home, which will become a museum and literary center.
February 2016—The John Updike Childhood Home receives its largest donation of exhibit materials with the acquisition of the Kevin Schehr Collection of Updike first editions, limited editions, and initial magazine publications, re-gifted by Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.
October 12-15, 2016—The Fourth Biennial John Updike Society Conference is held in Columbia, S.C., hosted by the University of South Carolina Libraries and celebrating the unveiling of the Don and Ellen Greiner Collection of John Updike. Keynote speaker: Garrison Keillor.
October 10, 2017—Miranda Updike, the family representative on The John Updike Childhood Home board, delivers the first of many batches of family-donated items, most of which came out of the Plowville farmhouse and most likely also the Shillington house.
June 1-5, 2018—The Fifth Biennial John Updike Society Conference is held in Belgrade, Serbia, hosted by the Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade—the first Updike conference to be held outside of the U.S. Keynote speakers: Ian McEwan, Alexander Shurbanov, and Michael Updike.
March 14, 2019—The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission approves The John Updike Childhood Home for a historical marker, which will be dedicated on October 2, 2021.
April 22, 2019—The John Updike Childhood Home is formally approved for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. A plaque will be unveiled at the marker dedication on October 2, 2021.
December 19, 2019—With another generous donation from the Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation, The John Updike Society purchases the property behind the house that was originally the backyard when the Updikes lived at 117 Philadelphia Ave. Soon after, the chicken coop Updike wrote about has to be demolished because of irreparable termite damage.
October 2, 2021—A crowd of 300 gathers on Shilling St. for the Pennsylvania Historic Marker Dedication ceremony, National Register of Historic Places plaque unveiling, and grand opening of The John Updike Childhood Home. The event, postponed from 2020 because of COVID-19, was scheduled to coincide with the 6th Biennial John Updike Society Conference, hosted by Alvernia University and new partner Governor Mifflin School District. Keynote speakers: Max Apple and James Schiff.
September 21-24—The 7th Biennial John Updike Society Conference is held in Tucson, Ariz., where Updike and second wife Martha lived for part of each year in the 2000s. Highlights include a tour of the Updike casitas hosted by member Jan Emery and husband Jim, and a special plenary session by Michael Updike. Pima Community College and Pima Foundation co-host the keynote speaker: Alberto Ríos, the first Poet Laureate of Arizona.
Recipients of The John Updike Society Distinguished Service Award:
2010—James Yerkes, for his important contributions to Updike scholarship through The Centaurian print and online newsletter.
2013—Conrad Vanino, for his invaluable help acquiring and converting The John Updike Childhood Home into a museum and acting as agent for the Society moving forward.
2016—The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation, whose generous support enabled the purchase and restoration of The John Updike Childhood Home in Shillington, Pa. and development of a “futures” fund.
2017—Roemer and Constance McPhee, whose PECO Foundation helped the society to go all out and hire a historic restoration specialist to bring The John Updike Childhood Home back to its original state when Updike lived there from “age zero to 13.”
2017—Dave Lull, for his many years helping to promote John Updike’s legacy through The Centaurian and JUS website.
2021—David W. Ruoff, for extraordinary docent work and other services to The John Updike Childhood Home
2021—Dave Silcox, for his tireless pursuit of exhibit items and work on behalf of The John Updike Childhood Home.
Recipients of Special Appreciation Awards:
2010—Tom Flynn and Alvernia University, for taking the initiative to help the society launch its biennial conferences.
2010—Dave Silcox (Site Director, 1st Biennial Conference) and Jack De Bellis (Program Director).
2012—Quentin Miller (Site Director, 2nd Biennial Conference) and Bernard F. Rodgers, Jr. (Program Director).
2014—Sue Guay (Site Director, 3rd Biennial Conference) and Maria Mogford (Program Director).
2016—Don Greiner (Conference Director) and Thomas McNally – Elizabeth Sudduth, with gratitude for hosting the 4th Biennial Conference.
2018—Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, with gratitude for hosting the 5th Biennial Conference, and Biljana Dojčinović (Conference Director).
2021—Sue Guay (Director, 6th Biennial Conference).
2021—James Schiff and James Plath, custom artwork awards created by Michael Updike and presented by the board and society members in appreciation for their leadership over the past decade.
2023—Robert Luscher and Jan Emery (Directors, 7th Biennial Conference).