One of the major figures to emerge in American fiction after World War II, John Updike is widely acclaimed as one of the most accomplished stylists and prolific writers of his generation. Showing remarkable versatility and range, his fiction represents a penetrating chronicle in the realist mode of the changing morals and manners of American society. Updike’s work has met with both critical and popular success. His first novel, The Poorhouse Fair, received the Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1960. In 1964, Updike received the National Book Award for The Centaur, and he was elected the same year to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. A number of his short stories have won the O. Henry Prize for best short story of the year and have been included in the yearly volumes of The Best American Short Stories. In 1977, Updike was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1981, his novel Rabbit Is Rich won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the American Book Award. That same year, he was awarded the Edward MacDowell Medal for literature. Along with an honorary doctoral degree from alma mater Harvard University, Updike received numerous honors throughout his career, including another Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the National Arts Club Medal of Honor, the National Book Foundation Medal, and the National Medal for the Humanities.
While Updike’s novels have continued the long national debate on the American civilization and its discontents, perhaps more significant is their depiction of restless and aspiring spirits struggling within the constraints of flesh, of time and gravity—lovers and battlers all. As Updike wrote about the novel in an essay, “Not to be in love, the capital N novel whispers to capital W western man, is to be dying.”