John Hoyer Updike (18 March 1932 – 27 January 2009) was an American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary critic.
Updike's most famous work is his Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom series (the novels Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and the novella "Rabbit Remembered"), which chronicles Rabbit's life over the course of several decades, from young adulthood to his death. Both Rabbit Is Rich (1981) and Rabbit At Rest (1990) received the Pulitzer Prize. Updike is one of only three authors (the others were Booth Tarkington and William Faulkner) to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once. He published more than twenty novels and more than a dozen short story collections, as well as poetry, art criticism, literary criticism and children's books. Hundreds of his stories, reviews, and poems appeared in The New Yorker, starting in 1954. He also wrote regularly for The New York Review of Books.
Describing his subject as "the American small town, Protestant middle class," Updike was well recognized for his careful craftsmanship, his unique prose style, and his prolificity. He wrote on average a book a year. Updike populated his fiction with characters who "frequently experience personal turmoil and must respond to crises relating to religion, family obligations, and marital infidelity." His fiction is distinguished by its attention to the concerns, passions, and suffering of average Americans; its emphasis on Christian theology; and its preoccupation with sexuality and sensual detail. His work has attracted a significant amount of critical attention and praise, and he is widely considered to be one of the great American writers of his time.Updike's highly distinctive prose style features a rich, unusual, sometimes arcane vocabulary as conveyed through the eyes of "a wry, intelligent authorial voice" that extravagantly describes the physical world, while remaining squarely in the realist tradition. He described his style as an attempt "to give the mundane its beautiful due."
Updike was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, the only child of Linda Grace (née Hoyer) and Wesley Russell Updike, and grew up in the nearby small town Shillington. The family later moved to the unincorporated village of Plowville. His mother's attempts to be a published writer influenced the young Updike's own aspirations. He later recalled how his mother's writing inspired him as a child. "One of my earliest memories is of seeing her at her desk ... I admired the writer's equipment, the typewriter eraser, the boxes of clean paper. And I remember the brown envelopes that stories would go off in—and come back in.
These early years in Berks County, Pennsylvania would influence the environment of the Rabbit Angstrom tetralogy, as well as many of his early novels and short stories. He graduated from Shillington High School as co-valedictorian and class president in 1950 and attended Harvard after receiving a full scholarship. At Harvard, he soon became widely known among his classmates as an extremely talented and prolific contributor to the Harvard Lampoon, of which he served as president, before graduating summa cum laude in 1954 with a degree in English.
After graduation, he decided to become a graphic artist and attended The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at the University of Oxford. His early ambition was to be a cartoonist. After returning to the United States, Updike and his family moved to New York, where he became a regular contributor to The New Yorker. This was the beginning of his writing career.
Updike married Mary E. Pennington, an art student at Radcliffe College, in 1953. She accompanied him to Oxford, England, where he attended art school and where their first child, Elizabeth, was born in 1955. The couple had three more children together: writer David (born 1957), Michael (born 1959) and Miranda (born 1960). They divorced in 1974.
In 1977 Updike married Martha Ruggles Bernhard, with whom he lived for more than thirty years in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. He died of lung cancer at a hospice in Danvers, Massachusetts, on 27 January 2009, at the age of 76. Updike had seven grandchildren: Trevor Leonard Updike and Sawyer Michael Updike, Michael's sons; John Anoff Cobblah and Michael Kwame Cobblah, Elizabeth's sons; Kai Daniels Freyleue and Seneca Dunn Freyleue, Miranda's sons; and Wesley Updike, David's son.
Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,
At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth's Garage
Those dutiful dogtrots down airport corridors
while gnawing at a Dunkin' Donuts cruller,
those hotel rooms where the TV remote
Our last connection with the mythic.
My mother remembers the day as a girl
she jumped across a little spruce