author of the Rabbit series of books--the only such series we know of that doesn't
feature a talking rodent--John Updike was born on March 18, 1932, in
Reading, Pennsylvania. He spent his first 13 years growing up in
nearby Shillington before the family moved to his mother's birthplace, a
stone farmhouse on an 80-acre farm near Plowville, 11 miles from
Scarred by psoriasis and a bad stammer, young Updike drew
strength from his mother, herself an aspiring writer, who encouraged her son
to take up writing and art. Contrary to loving farm life, Updike spent
his teenage years dreaming of the day he would escape from its provincial
dominance over him. In the meantime, he amused himself by reading the escapist
literature of contemporary authors such as Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery
Queen, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, and P. G. Wodehouse.
Updike proved to be an apt student, above average in nearly
every grade-school subject, which he once explained away easily: "My inability to read
bravely as a boy had this advantage: when I went to college, I was a true
tabula rasa (blank tablet), and received gratefully the imprint of my
instructors' opinion, and got good marks."
attending high school in Shillington, where his father worked as a science
teacher, Updike entered Harvard. He majored in English and contributed
to and eventually became editor of the Harvard Lampoon. He
married classmate Mary Pennington, and the two spent their 1954-1955
academic year at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts in Oxford,
England. Upon their return to the states, he joined the staff of
The New Yorker, where he wrote editorials, poetry, short stories, and
Two years later, Updike left the magazine to begin writing full time.
He and his wife moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, where they would live for
the next 17 years. The town became the model for Tarbox in his novel,
Couples (1968), a portrait of sexual passion and renewal among a
group of young, hip suburban married couples.
The author wrote the first book featuring his famous hero, Harry "Rabbit"
Angstrom, a sexually charged, blue-eyed small-town Swedish athlete, and followed that
up with Rabbit, Redux. In the second book, Rabbit is a
middle-aged, middle-income man who finds his life shattered by his wife's
infidelity. Two more Rabbit novels followed--Rabbit Is Rich and
Rabbit at Rest, the latter set in the late 1980s.
It parallels the decay of society, an AIDS-plagued America, and Rabbit's
steadily degenerating body, now sore and swollen from the ravages of old age.
In 2000, Updike wrote a prequel to Hamlet in which the sullen prince
plays a secondary character to the focus of the story, his mother (Queen
Gertrude), her husband, and Claudius, her husband's younger brother.
his literary career, Updike has been a keen observer of ordinary life around
him. Often, he tempts his readers to reevaluate their preconceived
notions of life. In The Bankrupt Man (1983), he turns
common views of bankruptcy and proves that there is an afterlife: "The
bankrupt man buys himself a motorcycle. He is going to hotdog it all
the way to Santa Barbara and back. He has a bankrupt sister in Santa
Barbara. Also, there are business details to be cleared up along the
way, in Pittsburgh, South Bend, Dodge City, Santa Fe, and Palm Springs.
Being bankrupt is an expansionist process; it generates ever new horizons."
John Updike, who once said, "Any activity becomes creative
when the doer cares about doing it right, or better," lives and works in
Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, in the same small New England town where he
has set so
much of his contemporary fiction.
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