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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