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John Updike

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John Updike

John Updike (born March 18 1932) is an American novelist and short story writer born in Reading, Pennsylvania and lived in nearby Shillington until he was 13. Updike's most famous works are his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit at Rest, and Rabbit, Remembered). Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest both won Pulitzer Prizes for Updike. Describing his subject as "the American small town, Protestant middle class", Updike is well known for his careful craftsmanship and prolific writing, having published 21 novels and more than a dozen short story collections, as well as poetry, literary criticism and children's books. His works often explore sex, faith, death, and their interrelationship.

As a child Updike suffered from psoriasis and stammering, and he was encouraged by his mother to write. Updike entered Harvard University on a full scholarship, graduating summa cum laude in 1954 with a degree in English before joining The New Yorker as regular contributor. In 1959 he published a well-regarded collection of short stories, The Same Door, which included both "Who Made Yellow Roses Yellow?" and "A Trillion Feet of Gas." Other classic stories include "A&P," "Pigeon Feathers," "The Alligators," and "Museums and Women."

He favors realism and naturalism in his writing; for instance the opening of Rabbit, Run, spans several pages describing a pick-up basketball game in intricate detail. Most of his novels follow this style at least loosely, and generally feature everyday people in middle America — the hero of his writing is typically an everyman one can find on the streets. He on occasion abandons this setting, for instance in The Witches of Eastwick (1984, a novel about witches, later made into a movie of the same name), The Coup (1978, about a fictional Cold War era African dictatorship), and in his 2000 postmodern novel Gertrude and Claudius (a prelude to the story of Hamlet illuminating three versions of the legend including William Shakespeare's). Other important novels include The Centaur (National Book Award, 1963), Couples (1968) and Roger's Version (1986). In addition to Henry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, a recurrent Updike alter-ego is the moderately well-known, unprolific Jewish novelist Henry Bech who is chronicled in three comic short story cycles, Bech: A Book (1970), Bech is Back (1981) and Bech At Bay: A Quasi-Novel (1998). His stories involving the socially-conscious (and socially-climbing) couple "The Maples" are widely considered to be semi-autobiography|autobiographical]], and several were the basis for a television movie entitled Too Far to Go starring Michael Moriarity and Blythe Danner which was broadcast on NBC. Updike stated that he chose this surname for the characters because he admired the beauty and resilliency of the tree of that name.

While Updike has continued to publish at the rate of about a book a year, critical opinion on his work since the early nineties has been generally muted, often damning. His novelistic scope in recent years has nevertheless been wide: retellings of mythical stories (Tristan and Isolde in Brazil, 1994; the Hamlet prequel of Gertrude and Claudius, 2000), generational saga (In The Beauty of the Lilies, 1996) science fiction (Toward the End of Time, 1997). In Seek My Face (2002) he explored the post-war art scene; in his latest novel Villages (2004), Updike returns to the familiar territory of infidelities in New England.

A large anthology of short stories from his formative career, titled The Early Stories 1953–1975 (2003) won the 2004 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He wrote that his intention with the form was to "give the mundane its beautiful due."

Updike is a well-known and practicing critic (Assorted Prose 1965, Picked-Up Pieces 1975, Hugging the Shore 1983, Odd Jobs 1991, More Matter 1999), and is often in the center of critical wars of words. Tom Wolfe called him one of "my three stooges" (the other two were John Irving and Norman Mailer). Updike has also been involved in critical duels with Gore Vidal, another author notorious for his criticisms.

He currently lives in Massachusetts. His next book will be a collection of essays on art, Still Looking (Knopf, 2005).

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