John Updike Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111201284-Updike.jpgJohn Updike Published by Salem Press, Inc.

John Updike was born on March 18, 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania, the only child of Wesley and Linda Grace (Hoyer) Updike. His early years were spent in the Shillington home of his mother’s parents, John and Katherine Hoyer. When John was thirteen, they moved to the old family farm in Plowville, ten miles outside Shillington, where John’s mother had been born. These were lean years for the family, which was supported only by his father’s meager salary as a mathematics teacher at Shillington High School. Though poor, his parents were well educated and had high aspirations for their son, who showed an early aptitude for art and writing.

Influenced by The New Yorker, the youthful Updike was determined to become a cartoonist and writer for that magazine. His mother, who had literary aspirations of her own, became determined that John should go to Harvard University. Because of his good grades, Updike won a full scholarship in 1950 to Harvard, where he majored in English and was editor of the Harvard Lampoon. He graduated with highest honors in 1954. He met his future wife, Mary Pennington, a Radcliffe student and daughter of a Unitarian minister, while he was a sophomore. They married in 1953, when Updike was a junior. In 1954, Updike published his first story in The New Yorker.

The Updikes spent a year during 1954-1955 at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford, England, financed partly by a Knox Fellowship. Their first child, Elizabeth, was born during this time. After publishing four stories and ten poems in The New Yorker during that year, Updike was offered a position as The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” reporter. The Updikes settled in New York City; Updike wrote for The New Yorker until 1957, when he felt the need to leave the city to devote his full time to writing. In April, 1957, they moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, where they lived for the following seventeen years. In 1958, his first book, a collection of poems called The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures, was published. In 1959, Updike published The Poorhouse Fair, his first novel, and a collection of stories, The Same Door. His second child, David, was born in 1957. In 1959, Updike’s second son, Michael, was born; in 1960, his last child, Miranda, was born. The Ipswich years saw Updike not only as a prolific writer but also active in community affairs. He was a member of the Congregational Church and the Democratic Town Committee.

It was during that same period—the late 1950’s and early 1960’s—that Updike faced a crisis of faith prompted by his consciousness of the inevitability of death. His reading of the works of Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard and, especially, the Swiss neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth helped him overcome this crisis and find a basis for faith. A preoccupation with the sense of death runs throughout...

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John Updike Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Updike is rightfully acclaimed as one of the most accomplished stylists and prolific writers of his generation. In both thematic seriousness and narrative range, he produced a body of writing of the highest order.

His fiction constitutes a serious exploration and probing of the spiritual conditions of American culture in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first, and it reflects a vision of life informed by his protestant Christian convictions. Like the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne, in whose steps Updike ably follows, Updike’s fiction continues the long conversation concerning the plight of innocence and its loss that has been so central to the American tradition. In a world no longer supported by traditional beliefs, Updike’s fiction explores the possibilities of love as the basis for a gracious and responsible life.

John Updike Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

John Updike was born in 1932, the only child of Wesley Updike, a cable splicer who lost his job in the Depression and had to support his family on a meager teacher’s salary ($1,740 per year), and Linda Grace Updike, an aspiring writer. The family moved to Plowville from Shillington, Pennsylvania, in 1945 to live on the farm of Updike’s maternal grandparents. Updike recalls that a gift subscription at that time to The New Yorker, a Christmas present from an aunt, was a significant factor in his decision to become an artist. In high school, he drew for the school paper, wrote articles and poems, and demonstrated sufficient academic gifts to be awarded a full scholarship to Harvard University, which he entered in 1950.

At college, Updike majored in English, became editor of the prestigious Harvard Lampoon, and graduated with honors in 1954. That year, The New Yorker accepted a poem and a story, an event that Updike remembered as “the ecstatic breakthrough of my literary life.” After graduation, Updike and his wife of one year, Mary Pennington, a fine arts major from Radcliffe, spent 1955 in Oxford, where Updike held a Knox Fellowship. When E. B. White offered him a job as a staff writer with The New Yorker, Updike accepted and spent the next two years contributing brief, witty pieces to the “Talk of the Town” section at the front of the magazine. During this time, he worked on the manuscript of a six-hundred-page book, which he decided not to publish because it had “too many of the traits of a first novel.” When his second child was born, he believed that he needed a different setting in which to live and work (the literary world in New York seemed “unnutritious and interfering”) and moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he found...

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John Updike Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The only child of Wesley Updike and Linda Grace Updike (née Hoyer), John Hoyer Updike spent the first thirteen years of his life living with his parents and grandparents in his maternal grandparents’ home in Shillington, Pennsylvania, in rather strained economic conditions. In 1945, the Updikes had to move to the family farm in Plainville, ten miles away from Shillington. Updike’s father supported the family on his meager salary as a mathematics teacher at the high school. His mother had literary aspirations of her own and later became a freelance writer. A number of Updike’s short stories, such as “Flight,” and the novels The Centaur and Of the Farm drew upon this experience. As a youth, Updike dreamed of drawing cartoons and writing for The New Yorker, an ambition he fulfilled in 1955. Updike went to Harvard University in 1950 on a full scholarship, majoring in English. He was editor of the Harvard Lampoon and graduated in 1954 with highest honors. In 1953, he married Radcliffe student Mary Pennington, the daughter of a Unitarian minister; they were to have four children.

After a year in Oxford, England, where Updike studied at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, he returned to the United States to a job offered him by E. B. White as a staff writer with The New Yorker, for which he wrote the “Talk of the Town” column. In April of 1957, fearing that the city scene would disturb his...

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John Updike Biography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

John Updike wrote his first story when he was eight years old. He earned a full scholarship to Harvard University, but ironically was refused admission into a creative writing seminar. He was graduated summa cum laude in 1954. He begin his literary career on the staff of The New Yorker magazine, moving to Massachusetts in 1957 to devote his time completely to fiction and poetry. He has become one of the most widely recognized novelists in America, having won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1995 he was awarded one of the highest honors an American author can receive, the Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters....

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John Updike Biography (American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

During his college years, John Updike expected to pursue an art career. A graphic artist, he was especially adept at cartoons. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Harvard University in 1952, Updike studied on a Knox Fellowship at the Ruskin Center of Drawing and Fine Arts in Oxford, England, 1954-1955. He and his wife, Mary Entwistle Pennington, whom he married on June 26, 1953, had four children before their divorce. The young Updike began earning his reputation with short stories in the New Yorker, and in 1959, he published his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair.

The 1960’s

A groundbreaking and especially productive period for an already prolific...

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John Updike Biography (Poets and Poetry in America)

Born March 18, 1932, John Hoyer Updike grew up during the Depression in Shillington, Pennsylvania, and in the farming country outside this northeastern town. His father was a mathematics teacher, his mother an intelligent, well-read woman and aspiring fiction writer who encouraged her son’s reading. The Updikes lived with John’s grandparents during the novelist’s earliest years; many of the boy’s memories of life in that household have found their way into his fiction and poetry. An excellent student in high school, Updike went to Harvard in 1950 on a full scholarship. There, while majoring in English, he edited the Lampoon and entertained visions of becoming a commercial cartoonist. While still a student at...

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John Updike Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Hoyer Updike is widely acclaimed as one of the most accomplished stylists and prolific writers of his generation; his fiction represents a penetrating chronicle of the changing morals and manners of American society. He was born in Shillington, Pennsylvania, on March 18, 1932, the only child of Wesley and Linda Grace Hoyer Updike. His father was a mathematics teacher at the high school and supported the family in lean times, first in the old parental home in Shillington, and later on a farm in Plowville, ten miles outside Shillington. A number of short stories, such as “Flight,” and the novels The Centaur and Of the Farm draw upon this experience. After attending schools in Shillington, Updike went to...

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John Updike Biography (Novels for Students)

John Updike Published by Gale Cengage

John Updike was born on March 18, 1932, in Reading, Pennsylvania, located in what is known locally as Pennsylvania Dutch country. He spent...

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John Updike Biography

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John Updike is always caught in the middle. Fortunately, that’s how he likes it. By his own admission, Updike has dedicated his career to depicting middle-class people in small-town America. A New England native, Updike’s dissection of Yankee wasps earned him early success and numerous literary awards. Later in life, Updike experimented outside that comfort zone, yielding mixed results and responses. These later works often take well-known stories and reinvent them or retell them from a new perspective. At its best, Updike’s writing celebrates America, even as it depicts the complexities of human relationships. In lesser efforts, Updike has been criticized as indulgent and simplistically self-satisfied. Still, his impressive body of work contains fiction and nonfiction, prose and poetry, short and long form, and children’s stories as well as grown-up sagas.

Essential Facts

  1. Updike’s depiction of small-town America took a whimsical turn in his novel The Witches of Eastwick, later adapted as a film, a short-lived TV show, and a stage musical.
  2. One of Updike’s best-beloved pieces of writing is an essay about legendary Boston Red Sox player Ted Williams called “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”
  3. A departure from his usual work, Updike’s 2000 novel Gertrude and Claudius is a prequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
  4. Updike, the critic, is not afraid of taking on fellow novelists, regardless of their reputation. He has traded words with the likes of Gore Vidal and Tom Wolfe.
  5. Updike died on January 27, 2009, at the age of 76.

John Updike Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

John Updike is one of America's most prominent contemporary authors. He has written novels, short stories, essays, poetry, reviews, articles,...

(The entire section is 478 words.)

John Updike Biography (Novels for Students)

"I'm a publishing fool, so anything I did not publish must be pretty bad," John Updike told Michael Rogers in Library Journal, and...

(The entire section is 339 words.)

John Updike Biography (Short Stories for Students)

John Updike is one of America's most prolific authors. He has written novels, short stories, essays, poetry, reviews, articles, memoirs, art...

(The entire section is 595 words.)

John Updike Biography (Short Stories for Students)

John Hoyer Updike was born on March 18, 1932. He was raised in Shillington, Pennsylvania, the only child of Wesley Updike and Linda Grace...

(The entire section is 476 words.)