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Prolific, Celebrated Author John Updike Dead at 76

January 27, 2009 04:45 PM
by Emily Coakley
John Updike, who wrote dozens of volumes of poetry, short stories and novels, died of lung cancer Tuesday.

Lung Cancer Claims Author

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John Updike died Tuesday morning, according to a statement from his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

Updike’s 28 novels address all sorts of issues, from hedonistic couples to terrorism. He also published 45 books of poetry, essays and criticism, according to the Daily Telegraph.

In examining Updike's long career, the National Endowment of the Humanities said, "Of all modern American writers, Updike comes closest to meeting Virginia Woolf's demand that a writer’s only job is to get himself, or herself, expressed without impediments."

Updike’s last published novel, “The Widows of Eastwick,” was released in the fall. It was a sequel to his 1984 novel, “The Witches of Eastwick.” Updike told the Daily Telegraph that his sequel was partly to correct the 1987 movie that had been made, which he thought focused too much on Jack Nicholson’s character and not enough on the witches. He wrote “The Witches of Eastwick” after being criticized for being chauvinistic.

“The short answer is, I wanted to write a book all about women, or mostly about women, and The Witches of Eastwick was my answer to feminists. And it did not, you’ll be interested to know, really placate them either,” he told the newspaper. 

According to the Observer, Updike, as of October, was working on a novel set in ancient Rome, and had a volume of short stories “that is due in 2009.”

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In another October interview, Updike told an Observer correspondent presciently, “Lately, I’ve been feeling not so much a wish to die as a wish that being alive didn’t generate so many demands.”

In his 50-year career, Updike received numerous awards, some prestigious and others decidedly less so. He won the Pulitzer Prize twice: in 1982 for his novel Rabbit Is Rich and in 1991 for Rabbit at Rest. In November, he received a lifetime achievement award for the Britain’s Bad Sex in Fiction Prize. The prize’s judges, who edit the magazine Literary Review, said he’d been a finalist four times in its 16 years. The Huffington Post quoted a statement from the judges, who said: “Good sex or bad sex, he has kept us entertained for many years.”

It’s not clear where Updike died, but he had been living outside of Boston since 1957.

Early Life: Mother’s writing paved the way

John Updike was born in 1932 in the southeastern Pennsylvania town of Shillington. His father taught high school, and his mother, who wanted to be a writer, worked in a department store, according to the Associated Press. It was she who helped him on his path to writing.

“Updike has said that if his mother had not been an aspiring writer herself it is unlikely that he would have thought of it as a career for himself,” the Daily Telegraph said.

Updike attended Harvard on a full scholarship, and was on the staff of the Harvard Lampoon. Updike spent a year after graduation at Oxford, studying painting on a fellowship. There he met his future wife, Martha Entwhistle Pennington, whom he married in 1953 and had four children with. They divorced in 1975. He married Martha Bernhard in 1977.

Updike’s first novel, The Poorhouse Fair, was published in 1959
, according to The Guardian.

Reference: Lung cancer

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