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A&P: Biography: John Updike

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John Updike was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, poems, and art and literary criticism during the second half of the twentieth century and earliest years of the twenty-first century. Hewas born on March 18, 1932, in Reading, Pennsylvania, and grew up in that area. His father was a high school science teacher. As a boy he was a voracious reader, and his mother encouraged him to write. He was an outstanding student in high school and won a tuition scholarship to Harvard University, from where he graduated with a degree in English in 1954.

Shortly after that he began contributing to the New Yorker magazine, beginning anassociation with that publication that would endure throughout his long career. In the late 1950s he published books in three different genres. First was a collection of poetry, The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures (1958), followed by his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair (1958), and a collection of short stories,The Same Door (1959).Rabbit, Run (1960), was the first of Updike’s five novels featuring the character Rabbit at different stages of his life. Two of these novels, Rabbit Is Rich (1981) and Rabbit at Run (1990), won Pulitzer Prizes.

By the late 1950s, Updike had devoted himself full-time to writing. In the following decade he moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, and set much of his fiction in that New England region. “A&P” was one of the stories that Updike wrote for the New Yorker. It was first published in 1961 and appeared in the short story collectionPigeon Feathers and Other Stories in 1962. In all, Updike wrote twelve collections of short stories, including Museums and Women (1972), Problems (1979), Trust Me (1987), and My Father’s Tears, and Other Stories (2009), which was published posthumously.

Among his most celebrated novels in the 1960s and 1970s were Couples (1968) and Marry Me: A Romance (1976), both of which explored the changing sexual mores of a middle-class community in small-town Massachusetts. The Witches of Eastwick (1984), which was made into a film in 1987, was another well-received novel. Other novels from the later period in Updike’s career include Memories of the Ford Administration: A Novel (1992),In the Beauty of the Lilies (1996) Gertrude and Claudius (2000),Terrorist (2006) and The Widows of Eastwick (2008).

In addition to his novels and short stories, Updike wrote eight volumes of poetry and a large number of essays and reviews on literature and art. Much of the latter was published in the New Yorker and was later collected in books including Picked-Up Pieces (1975), Just Looking: Essays on Art (1989), and Odd Jobs (1991).

Updike married Mary E. Pennington in 1953, while they were both still students (Pennington at Radcliffe College). They had four children and divorced in 1974. In 1977, Updike married Martha Ruggles Bernhard.

Updike died of lung cancer on January 9, 2009, in Danvers, Massachusetts, at the age of seventy-six.




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