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John Updike

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John Hoyer Updike was an American writer, poet, literary critic and novelist. He was born on 18th March 1932 in Reading, Pennsylvania. Updike was the only child of Wesley Russell Updike, a mathematics teacher and an aspiring writer Linda Grace Hoyer. His mother’s writing passion became a major influence on young John. He often used to recall his mother’s writing desk, the typewriter and clean sheets of paper. One day he hoped to have it all. Updike went to Shillington High School and graduated as a valedictorian and class president in 1950. He then enrolled into Harvard where he gained the reputation of a prolific writer being a regular contributor and president of the ‘Harvard Lampoon’. He graduated in 1954 ‘summa cum laude’ with a degree in English.

Updike’s initial desire was to become a cartoonist. To pursue this goal he entered the ‘The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts’ at the University of Oxford. After completing school he returned to America where began to contribute to ‘The New Yorker’ at a regular basis marking the beginning of a remarkable writing career. His first story for this magazine was called ‘Friends from Philadelphia’. John Updike remained at his post of staff writer for ‘The New Yorker’ for two years. He wrote the columns ‘Talk of the Town’, poetry and short stories for the magazine. Some of these stories became the groundwork for his later poetry books such as ‘The Carpentered Hen’ (1958) and ‘The Same Door’ (1959). His 1968 novel, ‘Couples’ created a great hype by portraying the relationship of young married couples and the complications in their lives.

Though Updike’s work in general was highly respected, his outstanding career as a poet was distinguished with successful volumes of poems such as ‘Telephone Poles and Other Poems’ (1963), ‘Midpoint’ (1969) and ‘Tossing and Turning’ (1977) which is considered to be one of his best works. Updike also went through a deep spiritual crisis which he overcame by reading the works of the theologians Karl Barth and Søren Kierkegaard. This religious journey also influenced many of his books.

John Updike was popular for many of his previous books but he rose to great eminence with his novel ‘Rabbit Run’ that was published in 1960. This book gave birth to one of the most famed American characters of the 20th century; Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom. His story starts in high school where he was appreciated as a terrific basketball player. The events that unfold bring him to a dead end job at the age of 26 and he had given up on life. Following his name he does what he does best; he runs. Updike’s skill as a writer should be credited here because a character so unlikable ends up gaining sympathy from the public. The other three novels of the series are a continuation of Rabbit’s life story. They are ‘Rabbit Redux’ (1971), ‘Rabbit is Rich’ (1981) and ‘Rabbit at Rest’ (1990). ‘Rabbit is Rich’ won him the ‘Pulitzer Prize’ in 1982.

At 32 years of age, John Updike became the youngest person to get elected to the ‘National Institute of Arts and Letters’. George H. W Bush presented him with the ‘National medal of Art’ in 1989 and the ‘National Medal for the Humanities’ by G.W Bush in 2003. This great writer of English literature died on 27th January 2009 in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts.

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