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John Updike


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John Hoyer Updike (born March 18, 1932 in Shillington, Pennsylvania) is an American writer. Updike's most famous works are his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and Rabbit Remembered). Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest both won Pulitzer Prizes for Updike. Describing his subject as "the American small town, Protestant middle class," Updike is well known for his careful craftsmanship and prolific writing, having published 22 novels and more than a dozen short story collections as well as poetry, literary criticism and children's books. Hundreds of his stories, reviews, and poems have appeared in The New Yorker since the 1950s. His works often explore sex, faith, and death, and their inter-relationships.

As a teenager, Updike was encouraged by his mother to write while attending Governor Mifflin High School. Updike entered Harvard University on a full scholarship. He served as president of the Harvard Lampoon before graduating summa cum laude (he wrote a thesis on George Herbert) in 1954 with a degree in English before joining The New Yorker as a regular contributor. In 1957, Updike left Manhattan and moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, which served as the model for the fictional New England town of Tarbox in his 1968 novel, Couples. In 1959 he published a well-regarded collection of short stories, The Same Door, which included both "Who Made Yellow Roses Yellow?" and "A Trillion Feet of Gas." Other classic stories include "A&P," "Pigeon Feathers," "The Alligators," and "Museums and Women." His 1960 New Yorker essay "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," about Boston baseball legend Ted Williams' last game, is regarded as being among the best examples of sportswriting.

He favors realism and naturalism in his writing; for instance, the opening of Rabbit, Run spans several pages describing a pick-up basketball game in intricate detail. His writing typically focuses on relationships among people: friends, married couples, or those in extramarital affairs. Couples and the Rabbit tetralogy, in particular, follow this pattern. In the Rabbit books, the changing social, political, and economic history of America forms the background to the Angstroms' marriage and acts occasionally as a commentary on it - and vice versa.

On occasion Updike abandons this setting, examples being The Witches of Eastwick (1984, later made into a movie of the same name); The Coup (novel) (1978, about a fictional Cold War-era African dictatorship), and in his 2000 postmodern novel Gertrude and Claudius (a prelude to the story of Hamlet illuminating three versions of the legend including William Shakespeare's). Other important novels include The Centaur (National Book Award, 1963), Couples (1968) and Roger's Version (1986). In addition to Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, a recurrent Updike alter-ego is the moderately well-known, unprolific Jewish novelist Henry Bech who is chronicled in three comic short story cycles, Bech: A Book (1970), Bech is Back (1981) and Bech At Bay: A Quasi-Novel (1998). His stories involving the socially-conscious (and social-climbing) couple "The Maples" are widely considered to be autobiographical, and several were the basis for a television movie entitled Too Far To Go starring Michael Moriarty and Blythe Danner which was broadcast on NBC. Updike stated that he chose this surname for the characters because he admired the beauty and resilience of the tree.

While Updike has continued to publish at the rate of about a book a year, critical opinion on his work since the early nineties has been generally muted, and sometimes damning. Nevertheless, his novelistic scope in recent years has been wide: retellings of mythical stories (Tristan and Isolde in Brazil, 1994; a Hamlet prequel in Gertrude and Claudius, 2000), generational saga (In the Beauty of the Lilies, 1996) and science fiction (Toward the end of time, 1997). In Seek My Face (2002) he explored the post-war art scene; in Villages (2004), Updike returns to the familiar territory of infidelities in New England. His twenty-second novel, Terrorist, the story of a fervent, eighteen-year-old Muslim in New York, was published in June 2006.

A large anthology of short stories from his formative career, titled The Early Stories 19531975 (2003) won the 2004 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He wrote that his intention with the form was to "give the mundane its beautiful due."

Updike is a well-known and practising critic (Assorted Prose 1965, Picked-Up Pieces 1975, Hugging the Shore 1983, Odd Jobs 1991, More Matter 1999), and is often in the center of critical wars of words. In retaliation for Updike's review of Tom Wolfe's novel A Man In Full, Wolfe called him one of "my Three Stooges" (the other two were John Irving and Norman Mailer). Updike has also been involved in critical disputes with Gore Vidal and John Gardner, authors renowned for their criticism of him and others.

Updike has worked in a wide array of literary genres, including fiction, poetry, essay, and memoir. His lone foray into drama, Buchanan Dying: a play, apparently constituted something of a reversal, since in a 1968 interview Updike claimed that "[t]he unreality of painted people standing on a platform saying things they've said to each other for months is more than I can overlook." He further said: "From Twain to James and Faulkner to Bellow, the history of novelists as playwrights is a sad one."

In 2006 Updike was awarded the Rea Award for the Short Story for outstanding achievement in that genre.

Updike has four children and currently lives in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts with his second wife, Martha. His new book is a collection of essays on art, Still Looking (Knopf, 2005).

Updike was the subject of a so-called "closed book examination" by Nicholson Baker, entitled U and I (Random House, 1991).

In an episode of the animated television series The Simpsons ,entitled "Insane Clown Poppy", John Updike is the author of a book that Krusty the clown is promoting. The book's title is "YOUR SHOES TOO BIG TO KICKBOX GOD" which is 20 page book written by John Updike as a scam for Krusty the Clown to make money.

Titles by John Updike

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