John Updike died today. A little more light has gone out of the world.
According to his publishers, he died of lung cancer. He was 76.
I met John Updike at the annual Kent State Writers’ Conference about 20 years ago. We spoke briefly following one of his mesmerizing talks. He was gracious to this novice fiction writer and also very encouraging. I liked him.
Updike won two Pulitzers, for “Rabbit Is Rich” and “Rabbit at Rest,” and two National Book Awards.
He grew up in the Protestant community of Shillington, Pa., where the Lord's Prayer was recited daily at school. He attended church faithfully and theological themes run through many of his works. He was open about his doubts, which made his writing all the more authentic. In that respect, he reminds me of Wendell Berry.
In a 2006 interview with the Associated Press, Updike said, "I remember the times when I was wrestling with these issues that I would feel crushed. I was crushed by the purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe."
In honor of John Updike, I'm reposting this comment he made about how books endure:
"By and large, times move with merciful slowness in the old-fashioned world of writing. The 88-year-old Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize in Literature, Elmore Leonard and P.D. James continue, into their 80s, to produce bestselling thrillers. Although books circulate ever more swiftly through the bookstores and back to the publisher again, the rhythms of readers are leisurely. They spread recommendations by word of mouth and 'get around' to titles and authors years after making a mental note of them. A movie has a few weeks to find its audience, and television shows flit by in an hour, but books physically endure, in public and private libraries, for generations."
From "The Writer in Winter" by John Updike, published in AARP, Nov.-Dec. 2008, p. 42.
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