John Hoyer Updike (1932-2009) was an American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary critic. One of only three writers to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once (the others were Booth Tarkington and William Faulkner), Updike published more than 20 novels, more than a dozen short-story collections, as well as poetry, art and literary criticism and children's books during his career.
Hundreds of his stories, reviews, and poems appeared in The New Yorker starting in 1954. He also wrote regularly for The New York Review of Books. His most famous work is his "Rabbit" series (the novels Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit at Rest; and the novella Rabbit Remembered), which chronicles the life of the middle-class everyman Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom over the course of several decades, from young adulthood to death. Both Rabbit Is Rich (1982) and Rabbit at Rest (1990) were recognized with the Pulitzer Prize.
Describing his subject as "the American small town, Protestant middle class,” Updike was recognized for his careful craftsmanship, his unique prose style, and his prolific output – he wrote on average a book a year. Updike populated his fiction with characters who "frequently experience personal turmoil and must respond to crises relating to religion, family obligations, and marital infidelity".
His fiction is distinguished by its attention to the concerns, passions, and suffering of average Americans, its emphasis on Christian theology, and its preoccupation with sexuality and sensual detail. His work has attracted significant critical attention and praise, and he is widely considered one of the great American writers of his time. Updike's highly distinctive prose style features a rich, unusual, sometimes arcane vocabulary as conveyed through the eyes of "a wry, intelligent authorial voice" that describes the physical world extravagantly while remaining squarely in the realist tradition. He described his style as an attempt "to give the mundane its beautiful due."
Photo by Ellen Foscue Johnson