Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Saying Goodbye to John Updike

John Updike, a leading writer of his generation who chronicled the emotional drama of American small-town life with searing wit and vivid prose, died on Tuesday of lung cancer. He was 76. Updike died in a hospice in Massachusetts, the state where he lived for many years. He was known for mining themes of sexual tension and spiritual and moral angst in small-town settings. Updike wrote four novels and a novella about the life of the fictional Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom: Rabbit is Rich, published in 1981, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A decade later, Rabbit at Rest won a second Pulitzer. His most recent novel, published this past fall, was The Widows of Eastwick, a follow-up to his 1984 novel The Witches of Eastwick.

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, he studied English at Harvard University, where he contributed to and later edited the satirical Harvard Lampoon magazine. He later joined the writing staff of the New Yorker. One of America's most prolific writers, Updike was acclaimed nearly as much for his short stories, poetry, and critical essays as for his novels. In 2005 he was asked in an interview which genre he preferred -- short stories, novels, poetry or criticism -- he paused before answering: "If I had been asked that 10 years ago I would have said short stories is where I feel most at home. I'm not sure I do feel totally at home any more, whether I have maybe written all my short stories. In a short story, as short a form as it is, you've got to make everything count toward a certain effect at the end. That's maybe a muscular feat that I've lost muscle to perform," he added. "But anyway I'm still trying."

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