John Updike Remembered

by Staff

Pulitzer Prize–winning author John Updike had a profound impact on the literary community in the United States and abroad, and many authors, editors, publishers, and readers have come forward to reflect on the prolific writer’s life and work following his death from lung cancer last Tuesday. He was seventy-six.

Authors such as Tobias Wolfe, Jeffrey Eugenides, E. L. Doctorow, ZZ Packer, and Jonathan Letham have posted memorials on the Book Bench blog of the New Yorker, in whose print pages Updike published numerous works of prose and poetry—his first published piece was light verse—over the course of nearly sixty years. In the February 9 issue of the magazine, selections of those works are featured, along with tributes by fiction editor Roger Angell, who talks about his thirty-three years of editing Updike, and Adam Gopnik, who says of the author, “As well as any writer ever has, he fulfilled Virginia Woolf’s dictum that the writer’s job is to get himself or herself expressed without impediments—to do so as Shakespeare and Jane Austen did, without hate or pause or protest or obvious special pleading or the thousand other ills that the embattled writer is heir to.”

Granta has posted on its Web site tributes from Edmund White, Garrison Keillor, Colm Toibin, Jane Smiley, Jennifer Egan, Susan Minot, and Alain de Botton, among others, which were submitted in response to a call sent out by the journal encouraging American and international authors to speak on Updike’s contribution to literature. “Updike certainly was the last true man of letters in America—someone who wrote a play, lots of verse, art criticism, short stories, essays, great novels,” White writes. “He was a towering figure and he will be sorely missed.”

New York magazine published a tribute by Sam Anderson, along with unpublished excerpts from the magazine’s October interview with Updike and a “highly abbreviated” list of Updike’s works.

Ian McEwan paid homage to the author in a BBC News broadcast. Along with video of the tribute, BBC News has posted a slideshow of images from Updike’s life on its Web site.

Last Wednesday, National Public Radio’s Fresh Air broadcast a program featuring interviews with Updike from 1988, 1989, and 1997. The program, as well as the complete original interviews, is available on the NPR Web site.

Time magazine published a tribute by Lev Grossman, which included excerpts from his 2006 interview with Updike, also published in Time. “I was hoping to talk to America,” Updike told Grossman at the time. “Like Walt Whitman, you know? Address it and describe it to itself.”

The Twitter network, which allows users to send short messages to friends via cell phone or instant message and includes a searchable digest of “tweets” on its Web site, has also been buzzing with hundreds of notes about Updike, lines from his works, and links to other tributes.