Saturday, April 25, 2009


John Updike, one of the world's greatest and most highly regarded writers, died in January at the age of 76. From the day he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, Updike worked tirelessly to produce (in the words of his New York Times obituary) "a body of fiction, verse, essays and criticism so vast, protean and lyrical as to place him in the first rank of American authors." It's hard to imagine a life more productive.

Here are just some of the international awards he received for his brilliant work:

1959 Guggenheim Fellow
1959 National Institute of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Award
1964 National Book Award for Fiction
1965 Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger
1966 O. Henry Prize
1981 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
1982 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
1982 National Book Award for Fiction
1982 Union League Club Abraham Lincoln Award
1983 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism
1984 National Arts Club Medal of Honor
1987 St. Louis Literary Award
1987 Ambassador Book Award
1988 PEN/Malamud Award
1989 National Medal of Arts
1990 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction
1991 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
1991 O. Henry Prize
1992 Honorary Doctor of Letters from Harvard University
1995 William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
1995 Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
1997 Ambassador Book Award
1998 National Book Award Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
2003 National Humanities Medal
2004 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
2006 Rea Award for the Short Story
2007 American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Fiction
2008 Jefferson Lecture

Updike wrote over 60 books during his lifetime. In his last months, as he knew he was dying, he completed one last book, a final collection of poems entitled Endpoint. One reviewer wrote,

In their last years, many artists cast aside all their usual flourishes, dismiss the circus animals and simply set down, as directly as possible, the realities and inevitabilities of old age. So John Updike has done in this moving book of poems.
So putting aside all the wealth and fame and world travel, what lesson does Updike have for us about the true nature of happiness? Updike writes:

To copy comic strips, stretched prone upon the musty carpet--
Mickey's ears, the curl in Donald's bill,
The bulbous nose of Barney Google, Captain Easy's squint--
What bliss!

Seems like you can either start working on that first Guggenheim fellowship, or you can pull out your pencil.