A Tribute to John Updike

john_updikeThe writer John Updike, who died on January 27, had a long relationship with The American Scholar. His first contribution was in 1962, a poem called “Calendar,” and his last was a short comic sketch called “Nessus at Noon,” which ran in our Winter 2009 issue and was the last piece of his published anywhere during his lifetime.

Writers have responded to the loss of John Updike with a wave of meditations and remembrances. In his Editor’s Note for our Spring 2009 issue, Robert Wilson shared his own take on Updike’s legacy. Now, in honor of his 77th birthday on March 18th, we’ve gathered excerpts from just a few of the thoughtful and thought-provoking essays that we have found on blogs scattered throughout the web, with links back to the full posts:

“My first encounter with Updike’s poetry followed a schooling in Gerald Manley Hopkins, Eliot, and Auden-knotty and highbrow, easy to revere, hard to love. Updike’s clear-cut Americana was a splash of cold water in the face: look! A poet can be accessible and intelligent, effortless and meaningful.”
-John Keenan, on the “Books Blog” hosted by The Guardian

“If Christians are tempted to take offence at Updike’s explicit (at times almost pornographic) portrayal of sex, we should remember that the relation between God and the human body is a central tenet of Christian faith. It’s no accident that the sex-obsessed Updike is wiser than so many theologians when he describes Christ’s resurrection in these terms….”
-Ben Myers, on his blog “Faith and Theology”

“As I made my way through Updike’s novels and short stories, I encountered again and again places as drab and commonplace as those I inhabited, yet rendered with a voice both lyrical and knowing. Updike created worlds that were perfectly ordinary and charged with meaning, and, in fleeting moments, with beauty. His was an exquisite sensibility at home in the mundane, a position that struck me, in my early adulthood, with existential force. He demonstrated you could gaze upon your suburban cul-de-sac with the eyes of Henry James. No one else I’ve ever read could yoke together erudition and domesticity like Updike. His form of sophistication was much more accessible than Bellow’s, more contemporary and broader-minded than Hemingway’s. Updike’s was the first adult view of the world I encountered that I could make my own.”
-Richard Prouty, on his blog “One Way Street”

Please share your thoughts on John Updike’s life and works using the “comments” function below. If you would like to read “Nessus at Noon,” which is only available through the print edition of our Winter 2009 issue, you can order a single copy by contacting us at scholar@pbk.org.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Sandra Beasley is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Made to Explode and the memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. She lives in Washington, D.C.


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