John Updike Biography

John Updike, considered one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century, was a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and recipient of numerous prestigious literary awards. Known for his exploration of religion, sex, and the American middle class, Updike’s novels captivate readers with their rich description and language. His works have been adapted for film and television, showcasing their visual appeal and relatability to the lives of everyday Americans. In addition to his novels, Updike was a regular contributor to ‘The New Yorker’ and was praised by essayist Adam Gopnik for breaking the curse of incompleteness in American writing. With a vast collection of poems, short stories, essays, and literary criticisms, Updike’s talent extends beyond the realm of novels. Discover more about this remarkable writer in the biography below.

Quick Facts

  • Nick Name: Rabbit
  • Also Known As: John Hoyer Updike
  • Died At Age: 76
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Martha Ruggles Bernhard, Mary Entwistle Pennington (m. 1953)
    • Father: Wesley Russell Updike
    • Mother: Linda Grace (née Hoyer)
    • Children: David (born 1957), Elizabeth, Michael (born 1959) Miranda
  • Died on: January 27, 2009
  • Place of death: Danvers, Massachusetts, United States
  • Notable Alumni: Ruskin School Of Art
  • U.S. State: Pennsylvania
  • Diseases & Disabilities: Lung Cancer
  • Cause of Death: Lung Cancer
  • City: Reading, Pennsylvania
  • More Facts
  • Education: Ruskin School of Art, Harvard College
  • Awards:
    • (two) National Book Critics Circle Award
    • (two) Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
    • 2004 – PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
    • (two) National Book Awards
    • 1989 – National Medal of Arts
    • 2003 – National Humanities Medal
    • Rea Award for the Short Story for outstanding achievement
    • Helmerich Award
    • St. Louis Literary Award
    • American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Fiction
    • Ambassador Book Award for Fiction
    • Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

Childhood & Early Life

John Updike was born in Pennsylvania to Linda Grace and Wesley Russell Updike. His mother’s aspiration for writing and getting her works published served as an inspiration for him from a very young age.

He completed high school studies from the Governor Mifflin Senior High School in 1950 and went to study at Harvard University on a full scholarship to major in English.

While at Harvard, he contributed cartoons to the in-house journal ‘Harvard Lampoon’ and later became its president. He graduated in 1954 earning a degree in English.

Following his graduation he attended ‘The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art’ at the University of Oxford to become a graphic artist.


After returning to the U.S. he moved from Pennsylvania to New York where he contributed to ‘The New Yorker’ to begin his career in writing.

In 1958, he published his first book of poetry ‘The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures’ and in 1959 he published ‘The Same Door’.

He relocated to Ipswich, Massachusetts with his family in 1960 where he wrote another of his books ‘Rabbit, Run’ and in 1963 ‘The Centaur’ was published. Both the works were well-received and later won him a National book Award.

Until he came up with his next piece of work, he continued to contribute to ‘The New Yorker’. In 1971, he wrote a sequel to the ‘Rabbit Run’ called ‘Rabbit Redux’. In 1979 he came out with a collection of short stories ‘Too Far To Go’.

His next big work of literature was in 1980 with the publication of ‘Rabbit Is Rich’ which brought him great critical acclaim worldwide.

Following the publication of the ‘Rabbit’ sequel, he came up with ‘The Witches of Eastwick’ in 1984 and ‘Roger’s Version’, in 1989.

His final rabbit novel was ‘Rabbit At Rest’ published in 1990 in which the protagonist dies. The book was critically acclaimed and made him one of the most celebrated writers of his time.

In the later part of his career he wrote a number of novels; the most famous one being 1996 novel ‘In the Beauty of the Lilies’.

In 2006, he published ‘Terrorist’ which though did not gain much critical praise but attracted a lot of media attention.

His last novel was ‘The Widows of Eastwick’ in 2008, a sequel to one of his previous novels ‘The Witches of Eastwick’.

Major Works

Updike’s most celebrated work till date is his ‘Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom’ which refers to the four novels he wrote namely, ‘Rabbit, Run’, ‘Rabbit Redux’, ‘Rabbit Is Rich’ and ‘Rabbit At Rest’. Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom or just ‘Rabbit’, a fictional character, is the protagonist whose childhood, youth, adulthood and death form the basis of the novels.

‘The Witches of Eastwick’ written in 1984, is another great novel by this author which was adapted to a film, a television series and was also made into several musicals.

Awards & Achievements

For his novel ‘Rabbit Is Rich’, Updike was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1982 along with the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the second time in 1991 after the publication of his magnum opus, ‘Rabbit at Rest’.

Personal Life & Legacy

Updike married Mary E. Pennington in 1953 and in 1955, their first child Elizabeth was born. They had three more children, before they divorced in 1974. In 1977, he married Martha Ruggles Bernhard with whom he spent the rest of his life.

He died of lung cancer at the age of 76.


Apart from William Faulkner and Booth Tarkington, this great American novelist is the only writer to have won two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction.

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