US novelist John Updike dies age 76

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Updike (left), with Mrs Barbara and President George H W Bush on 17 November 1989
Image: George Bush Presidential Library.

Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist John Updike has died of lung cancer at a hospice near his home in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. He was 76.

Born John Hoyer Updike in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1932, he documented ordinary — if highly sexualized — American life in around 50 works, beginning with The Poorhouse Fair in 1959. He once said that his books were about "the American small town, Protestant middle class".

The son of a Pennsylvania school teacher who worked in the holidays as a laborer, he was educated at Harvard University — where he edited the magazine Lampoon — and United Kingdom's The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From there, he went on to write for The New Yorker.

After The Poorhouse Fair, he introduced the character of Harold 'Rabbit' Angstrom in his 1960 work Rabbit, Run. His two Pulitzer prizes were won for further books featuring the character: Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest. His 1984 novel The Witches of Eastwick was made into a film starring Jack Nicholson, Cher and Susan Sarandon. His work drew criticism as well as awards, not least for his depiction of female characters and voyeuristic passages describing rape.

He was ambivalent about his reputation, noting in his 1989 autobiography Self-Consciousness that he was aware of "my ponderously growing oeuvre, dragging behind me like an ever-heavier tail". As well as the Pulitzer prizes, Updike won many literary awards, including the National Medal for Humanities in 2003. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Updike had two daughters, Elizabeth and Miranda, and two sons, David and Michael, by his first wife Mary. His second wife Martha survives him.