John Updike

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Updike, John

Updike, John, 1932–2009, American author, one of the nation's most distinguished 20th-century men of letters, b. Shillington, Pa., grad. Harvard, 1954. In his many novels and stories, written in a well-modulated prose of extraordinary beauty, lyricism, and dazzling fluidity and with a sure eye for the details of ordinary domestic life, Updike usually treats the tensions and frustrations of the middle class, often mingling the joys and sorrows of suburban life with a current of existential dread. His “Rabbit quartet,” perhaps his most famous novels, begins with Rabbit Run (1961), which, set in Pennsylvania in the 1950s, concerns the young Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, a sort of surburban everyman who yearns for his days as a high school basketball star, hates his salesman's job, and, fleeing a loveless marriage, deserts his wife and child. The next books follow him through three decades of American life. In Rabbit Redux (1971), he confronts racial tension, job obsolescence, sexual freedom, drugs, violence, and the alienation of the young. The quartet continues with Rabbit Is Rich (1981; Pulitzer Prize) and ends with Rabbit at Rest (1990; Pulitzer Prize). The Rabbit characters are brought up to date in Rabbit Remembered, a novella-sequel included in the volume Licks of Love (2000).

Remarkably prolific, Updike produced about a book a year, publishing 60 volumes (including 26 novels) during his lifetime as well as reams of miscellaneous writings. His other novels include The Poorhouse Fair (1959); The Centaur (1962); the sensual Couples (1968); the exotic The Coup (1978); the wickedly comic The Witches of Eastwick (1984) and its sequel, The Widows of Eastwick (2008); the epic In the Beauty of the Lilies (1995); Seek My Face (2002); and The Terrorist (2006). Among his volumes of poetry, many consisting of light verse, are The Carpentered Hen (1958), Facing Nature (1985), Americana (2001), Endpoint and Other Poems (2009), and the posthumous Selected Poems (2015). His many superb short-story collections include Pigeon Feathers (1962), Museums and Women and Other Stories (1972), Problems (1979), The Afterlife and Other Stories (1994), My Father's Tears and Other Stories (2009), and the linked stories that feature Updike's Jewish, urban, unmarried, and writer's-blocked alter ego, Henry Bech: Bech: A Book (1970), Bech Is Back (1982), and Bech at Bay (1998). Updike also wrote the play Buchanan Dying (1974) and a variety of nonfiction: literary criticism, e.g., Hugging the Shore (1983), Odd Jobs (1991), More Matter (1999), and Due Considerations (2007); art criticism, e.g., Just Looking (1989), Still Looking (2005), and the posthumous Always Looking (2012); and essays on other subjects, e.g., Golf Dreams (1996) and Higher Gossip (2011).


See his memoirs (1989, repr. 2012); J. Plath, ed., Conversations with John Updike (1994); biography by A. Begley (2014); studies by D. Thorburn and H. Eiland, ed. (1979), W. R, Macnaughton, ed. (1982), J. Detweiler (rev. ed. 1984), J. H. Campbell (1987), J. Newman (1988), R. M. Luscher (1993), J. A. Schiff (1998), J. Yerkes, ed. (1999), W. H. Pritchard (2000), J. De Bellis, ed. (2005), and P. J. Bailey (2006); J. De Bellis, The John Updike Encyclopedia (2000).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Updike, John


Born Mar. 18, 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. American writer. Graduate of Harvard University.

Updike published a collection of poems in 1958 and the novella The Poorhouse Fair in 1959. These works were followed by the collection of short stories The Same Door (1959), the novels Rabbit, Run (1960) and The Centaur (1963, Russian translation, 1965), the collections of short stories Pigeon Feathers (1962) and The Music School (1966), the collection of poems Telephone Poles (1963), and the novella Of the Farm (1965, Russian translation, 1967). Inherent in Updike’s works is a constant attention to the spiritual make-up of his contemporaries, together with an unusual stylistic mastery in conveying the dreariness, emptiness, and egocentrism that characterize bourgeois existence. Updike’s short stories contain clear pictures of contemporary America.


Verse. Greenwich [1965].
Assorted Prose. New York, 1965.
In Russian translation:
Kentavr.[Foreword by S. Markish. Afterword by R. Orlova.] Moscow, 1966.


Landor, M. “Romany-kentavry.” Voprosy literatury, 1967, no. 2.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Updike, John (Hoyer)

(1932–  ) writer, poet, critic; born in Shillington, Pa. He studied at Harvard (B.A. 1954) and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts, Oxford (1954–55); although he would not develop his youthful talents as an artist, he never lost his interest in art. He worked on the staff of the New Yorker for two years; while maintaining his relationship with that periodical, he became, over the years, a highly successful novelist, short story writer, poet, and essayist, eventually settling in Georgetown, Mass. His first novel, The Poorhouse Fair (1957), initiated the critical dispute about his writing: some critics would praise his wit, style, use of language, and his affinity for the middle class and their spiritual and sexual angst; others complain about his plots, the sexual content of his work, and the alleged lack of substance. For most readers, Updike became associated with such popular works as The Witches of Eastwick (1989) and his contemporary American Everyman, Harry "Rabbit" Angstron in Rabbit Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit is Rich (1981), and Rabbit at Rest (1990). Some readers and critics feel that The Centaur (1963), an early mythic novel about a teacher in a small town, is his best work. He is also admired for his many reviews and essays on a wide range of writers, artists, and cultural issues.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.