US writer John Updike died today of lung cancer. He was 76. Sad. I’m sad to lose him.
From an obituary at the Times Online:
John Hoyer Updike was brought up in the Pennsylvanian town of Shillington (transformed into “Ollinger” in his stories) and educated at the high school where his father taught mathematics. A talented draughtsman, he initially harboured ambitions to be an artist, and later spent a year at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford.
His acute eye for cumulative detail was to find expression in his fiction. Throughout his life he tended to view himself as a craftsman rather than Olympian artist. The mechanics of turning memory into prose — typefaces, fonts and proofs — apparently fascinated him as much as the intellectual process.
His love affair with The New Yorker began when he was only 12, after an aunt gave him a subscription to William Shawn’s magazine as a Christmas present. John Cheever’s stories, printed in the magazine at regular intervals, were later to exert a strong influence on his work. Bookish by nature, Updike’s introverted personality was also shaped by his experience of the chronic skin complaint psoriasis (an affliction he shared with the British playwright Dennis Potter).
He first had a short story accepted by The New Yorker in 1954, the year he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard. The following year, after his sojourn in Oxford on a Knox Fellowship, he began a two-year stint on The New Yorker, based in the “Talk of the Town” section.
The job gave Updike an entrée into the life of the city, but in 1957 he took the decisive step of leaving Manhattan to live in the relatively conventional surroundings of the coastal mill town of Ipswich, Massachusetts. In those innocent, pre-inflationary days, he calculated that a writer could make a satisfactory living from selling a handful of stories to The New Yorker each year.
As he later wrote of his departure from New York, he was glad to escape “the literary demi-monde of agents and would-bes and with-it non-participants; this world seemed unnutritious and interfering . . . When I write, I aim in my mind not towards New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a country-ish teen-aged boy finding them and having them speak to him.”
Read the whole thing here