John Updike Additional 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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(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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(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. He died in Danvers, Massachusetts on January 27, 2009. He was 76.

Updike’s best-known work is the series of four books tracing the life of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; and Rabbit at Rest present a panorama of middle America. Harry Angstrom moves from young manhood to prosperity and finally death; he is an American Everyman, and his story challenges readers to consider just what a good man is and how one can balance American individualism with the American ideal of community.

Other groups of Updike novels also share interrelated themes. Couples, Marry Me, and The Witches of Eastwick all describe young upper-middle-class couples struggling to find lasting values in affluent, morally permissive New England suburbs. A Month of Sundays, Roger’s Version, and S. (1988) each remarkably retell Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic nineteenth century novel The Scarlet Letter (1850). A Month of Sundays is told by an adulterous minister, Roger’s Version by a wronged husband, and S. by a woman who has left her husband for an affair with a minister. All three explore the issues of sin and adultery raised by Hawthorne in light of modern American society. Updike deliberately did not seek the heroic or unusual, but chose to present the ordinary, or as he has put it, “the whole mass of middling, hidden, troubled America.”


(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...

(The entire section is 1186 words.)


(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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(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...

(The entire section is 959 words.)


(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...

(The entire section is 459 words.)


(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.)


(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.)


(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.)


(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.)