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Thoughts on John Updike

January 27, 2009

The highlight of every year at the National Endowment for the Humanities is the annual Jefferson Lecture.  Each May, a thousand or so people cram a Washington venue like the elegant Warner Theatre to listen to a distinguished scholar speak for an hour about the humanities.  The lectureship is an award from the American people.  It’s accompanied by a $10,000 check drawn on the U.S. Treasury and a nice engraving of Thomas Jefferson.

Last spring, the Jefferson Lecturer asked “What is American about American art?” This question, among others about visual art, was an abiding passion of John Updike’s. In addition to his novels, poetry, essays, and criticism, he was the author of two books and many essays of art criticism.  Among his many other achievements, his work on art deserves respect and recognition.  He brought a fresh, idiosyncratic vision to his art criticism.  He seemed to value a direct engagement with objects and brought his own manner of seeing and writing.

Here’s the NEH web package on Updike’s lecture from last May.  I especially recommend Adam Gopnik’s “appreciation.”

R.I.P., John Updike.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2009 1:50 am

    the loss of John Updike makes me wonder if the literary world is being replenished at the same rate that it’s losing such great writers

  2. January 31, 2009 11:38 am

    It’s a real concern. I tend to think the answer is no. The equivalent talents are probably directing their creative energy somewhere other than writing novels and essays.

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