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Mind Openers: John Updike


By Cynthia Lee

Published Oct 1, 2008 8:10 AM

By his own calculation, John Updike, who wears the weighty mantle of "the greatest living writer in America" in some critics' estimation, has already given readers some 3 million to 4 million well-chosen words over the course of his prolific 54-year career, which started at age 22 with a story in The New Yorker.

But even after penning more than 50 books and work that includes fiction, poetry, essays, literary criticism, children's literature and one play, Updike is nowhere close to wrapping it up. In a rare appearance set for Nov. 13, a Royce Hall audience will hear him talk about his next literary adventure, The Widows of Eastwick. Widows will be a sequel to his book The Witches of Eastwick, which was adapted into a film starring Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Updike has become the peerless chronicler of the valleys and peaks of the American experience. His renowned series of novels about Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, an achievement that spanned four decades, earned him Pulitzer Prizes for two of the four novels. He is only the third American to receive both the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal.

"John Updike's discerning eye has made him an acute observer of American culture and art," notes National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Chairman Bruce Cole. "His fiction, prose, essays and poetry over the years have provided invaluable insights into the human condition and into the humanities." To the heaps of awards that pack his lengthy biography, the NEH recently added one more. On his 76th birthday, NEH invited the author to deliver the 2008 Jefferson Lecture in May, the most prestigious honor the federal government gives for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.

Get Lit

Want to read more of this remarkable writer's work? Read criticism of Updike works? Or what the author himself has to say? Visit

In his upcoming novel, due out in October, Updike picks up the Eastwick story more than three decades later when the three women — now widows — return to the village where, as free and empowered women, they enjoyed their lusty primes and worked their evil deeds.

UCLA Live's Spoken Word Series: John Updike in Conversation. Thursday, Nov. 13, 8 p.m. Royce Hall. Tickets: $38, $30, $25. For tickets and information, call (310) 825-2101 or visit

Illustration by Jordan Domont.