Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.
Everyman's Storyteller: A Brief Biography of John Updike
Do you ever have trouble reading the works of Shakespeare or Jane Austen? Many people often do nowadays, and this might be because many of their characters (i.e. royalty and gentlefolk) and the situations they find themselves in are sometimes unrelatable to today's readers. Luckily, though, there are guys like John Updike who give us stories about people pretty much anyone can relate to.
John Hoyer Updike was born March 18th, 1932 in Reading, Pennsylvania. It was near there in Shillington, PA where Updike spent his childhood and where this astute observer of everyday middle-class life got his first taste of small-town living. It was also the model for the sleepy town of Olinger, where many of John's earliest short stories are set.
With a coveted full-ride scholarship to Harvard University, John pursued a degree in English. There, he also became president of the Harvard Lampoon - the school's student-run periodical devoted to humorous works, particularly parodies. Updike graduated from Harvard in 1954 with the great distinction of summa cum laude.
The next year, John began contributing poetry, short stories, and critical essays to The New Yorker, and this relationship would last practically throughout his long career. It wasn't until 1958, however, that Updike knew that writing was going to pay his bills when, in the same year, he published both his first collection of poetry (The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures) as well as his first novel (The Poorhouse Fair).
From that point on, John knew that he was meant to be a career writer. And with over 50 books and almost 200 individual short stories, he was certainly one of the most prolific of his and many other generations. Aside from his poetry, novels, and short stories, Updike also published numerous pieces on art and literary criticism. Nevertheless, John Updike - who died from lung cancer on January 27th, 2009 in Danvers, Massachusetts - is most often remembered for his treasured tales of and for the everyman. Keep reading to get a glance at some of the most famous and popular of these in Updike's huge body of work!
Books and Short Stories by Updike
You've probably met someone similar to Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom: a basketball star who peaked in high school and now who's scared to face a world where things don't come so easily. Published in 1960, Rabbit, Run is the first novel to chronicle the decades of Rabbit's daily small-town life. In his mid-twenties, Rabbit is terrified by the prospect of being tied down in a little town when he expected so much more from life, initially leading him to run away from his responsibilities.
This novel is often considered one of Updike's best, but it was two later novels in this series, though, that won John the Pulitzer Prize: Rabbit is Rich (1981) and Rabbit at Rest (1990). The final installment (Rabbit Remembered) was published in 2001 and actually focuses on people's memories of the protagonist who's now deceased.
Everybody can relate to a story about going grocery shopping, right? Most should, especially when that story happens to be set in (and named after) a real supermarket like Updike's short story, 'A&P.' This staple of real New England life is where fictional teenage check-out clerk Sam encounters three girls shopping in bathing suits and makes some adult decisions to defend them - but of course for some adolescent reasons.
John submitted 'A&P' to The New Yorker in 1961, and it was first collected with other short stories in Updike's Pigeon Feathers from 1962. Since then, its popularity has made it one of the most frequently anthologized of all John's stories.
'The Bulgarian Poetess'
In many ways, the twenty short stories involving writer Henry Bech are Updike's way of relating his readers to himself. Published by The New Yorker in 1965, 'The Bulgarian Poetess' is the first of these stories. We follow the brooding Bech to Eastern Europe as he acts as cultural liaison in an effort to patch strained relations between the U.S. and the Soviets. In that same year, Updike had performed a very similar duty himself. Although there are many differences between Henry and John, it's clear from reading this and other Bech stories that Updike uses this character as a way of relating his struggles and other experiences as a writer to his readers.
The Witches of Eastwick
This novel might sound like it's set in the colonial era, but Updike actually placed it in the fictional town of Eastwick, Rhode Island during the 1960's. The Witches of Eastwick follows the story of three women who - by one means or another - are no longer bound to their husbands. As a result, they begin to develop magical abilities that only get them into loads of scandalous trouble when egged-on by a newcomer to Eastwick: Daryl Van Horne, Updike's version of the devil.
Like Rabbit, Run, this novel has become extremely popular among readers - so much so that it was actually made into a movie! Three years after Updike published The Witches of Eastwick in 1984, a film adaptation was made, starring Jack Nicholson as Daryl.
Though also a prolific poet and critic, John Updike is perhaps best known for his novels and short stories depicting everyday small-town life often fashioned after his childhood home of Shillington, PA. From 1955 on, he contributed many stories to The New Yorker, including 'A&P' and 'The Bulgarian Poetess,' the latter of which was the first to feature John's recurring character, Henry Bech. Perhaps most of all, Updike is renowned for his novels, such as Rabbit, Run and The Witches of Eastwick.
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