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John Updike, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist


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John Updike, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, prolific man of letters and erudite chronicler of sex, divorce and other adventures in the postwar prime of the American empire, died Tuesday at age 76.

Updike, best known for his four "Rabbit" novels, died of lung cancer at a hospice near his home in Beverly Farms, Mass., according to his longtime publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

A literary writer who frequently appeared on best-seller lists, the tall, hawk-nosed Updike wrote novels, short stories, poems, criticism, the memoir "Self-Consciousness" and even a famous essay about baseball great Ted Williams.

He released more than 50 books in a career that started in the 1950s, winning virtually every literary prize, including two Pulitzers, for "Rabbit Is Rich" and "Rabbit at Rest," and two National Book Awards.


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Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author John Updike

by Mary Rourke


John Updike

BEVERLY FARMS, Massachusetts -- John Updike, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner for fiction whose novels and short stories exposed an undercurrent of ambivalence and disappointment in small-town, middle-class America, died Tuesday, January 27 from lung cancer, according to a statement by Nicholas Latimer of Alfred A. Knopf, his publisher. No other details were available. Updike was 76.

In a career spanning half a century, Updike published more than 50 books, more than 20 of them novels, and countless short stories, as well as collections of poetry. In recent years, he was best known for his art criticism and essays. His last published piece was a review of Toni Morrison's novel "A Mercy," in the November 3, 2008, issue of the New Yorker.

"He had a remarkably wide range of literary interests that was never in my view superficial or casual," Robert Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books, told The Times, recently. The New York Review of Books published much of Updike's art criticism.

"Updike's literary criticism,' Silvers said, "covered nearly every major writer of the 20th century and some 19th century authors." For Updike, a successful book review depended on whether it was "animated." Silvers added, "Whether it was flat, academic, dry criticism, or did it have animation, in which the writer is participating in John's own imagination."

By the late 1980s, Updike had achieved what a Times writer called "the near royal status of the American author-celebrity," but critical views of his fiction were often mixed. Lorrie Moore, writing in the New York Review of Books in 2003, said Updike was "quite possibly . . . American literature's greatest short story writer, and arguably our greatest writer."


John Updike, (left), was a rising star when his novel, 'The Centaur,'

won the National Book Award for Distinguished Fiction in 1963.

Claiming honors were (L-R) Updike, John Keats biographer Aileen

Ward, poet John Crowe Ransom and Mary Stahlman Douglas, the

book page editor of the Nashville Banner.

But Harold Bloom, writing years earlier in a collection of essays on Updike's work, noted that although the novelist was capable of crafting a "beautifully economical narrative," he lacked depth, which Bloom saw as a requirement of great fiction. He viewed Updike as "a minor novelist with a major style."

Despite the critical divide, two of Updike's most memorable fictional characters were Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom and Henry Bech. Both characters became emblems of the displaced American male that fascinated him as a writer.

Angstrom, a man he often referred to as his alter-ego, is the disenchanted middle-class drifter in Updike's four-book series about "Rabbit." Bech is the Jewish American novelist, breaking away from his cultural roots and immigrant heritage to become a fully assimilated American. Each in his own way reflects Updike's major themes.

Early in his career, Updike said he wrote most often about the world he came from, "the American Protestant small-town middle class," as he described it in a 1966 Life Magazine interview. "It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules."

Updike took this previously uncharted territory and "made it common American ground," wrote Cynthia Ozick in a 2003 essay for the New York Times Book Review. In addition to his Pulitzers, for "Rabbit Is Rich" and "Rabbit at Rest," Updike also won the American Book Award and the National Book Award for "Rabbit Is Rich."


John Updike takes a break from writing at

his home in Massachusetts in 1981.

Updike was in his 20s when his second novel, "Rabbit Run," brought him national attention in 1960. Several reviewers immediately saw the book's main character as an icon of his generation. Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom was a small-town Pennsylvania boy who grew into a high school basketball star.

Angstrom married young, quickly found adult life disappointing, left his wife and young son, and set off alone. Three more novels about Angstrom followed: "Rabbit Redux" in 1971, "Rabbit Is Rich" in 1981 and "Rabbit at Rest" in 1990.

As Rabbit muddled through the collapse of established sexual mores, the rise of the technological age and the beginnings of globalization, he became a "purposely representative" American male, Updike said in "Self-Consciousness," his 1989 memoir.

Many critics found "a great divide between Updike's exquisite command of prose and . . . the apparent no-good vulgar nothing he expended it on," wrote critic Eliot Fremont-Smith about Rabbit in a 1981 article for the Village Voice. Others saw Rabbit's story as "a subtle expos

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