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Happy Birthday John Updike—and a little Kierkegaard too!

Today is John Updike’s birthday. Now, that may seem matter o’fact to you, but we LOVE Kierkegaard at Mercer University Press. So, we know what you’re thinking—what has Updike got to do with Kierkegaard? Let us just say that if we can find a way to turn a topic around to Kierkegaard, well—we just can’t stop ourselves. In the fall, we will be publishing a significant book on Updike and Kierkegaard. He (Updike) was an avid student of Kierkegaard.

If you are still reading this, below you will find a little bit of information about Updike from the Writers Almanac (abridged of course), along with some details regarding our upcoming book by David Crowe.

It’s the birthday of novelist John Updike, born in Reading, Pennsylvania (1932). He went to Harvard, where he majored in English and drew cartoons for the Harvard Lampoon (he also wrote the majority of each issue). After graduation, he got married, sold his first short story to The New Yorker, and headed off to England with his new wife. In England, Updike studied painting at Oxford University and continued to send poems and stories to The New Yorker. His work impressed E.B. and Katharine White—E.B. wrote for The New Yorker and Katharine was its fiction editor. While they were vacationing in England they visited Updike and offered him a job writing the magazine’s “Talk of the Town” column.

By 1959, Updike was just five years out of Harvard, but already he had published more than a hundred pieces in The New Yorker and finished three books: a novel, The Poorhouse Fair (1959); a book of poetry, The Carpentered Hen (1958); and a book of stories, The Same Door (1959). Updike wrote more than 50 books, including 22 novels. His books include Couples (1968), Too Far to Go (1979), The Witches of Eastwick (1984), In the Beauty of the Lilies (1996), and Terrorist (2006).

The Maple short stories, collected in Too Far To Go link stories that focus upon the marriage and eventual divorce of Richard and Joan Maple and depict a 1960s New York City and New England milieu through the 1970s typical of much of Updike’s fiction.

Now, how can we tie this to Kierkegaard you ask? Well, John Updike once wrote that many of his works are “illustrations of Kierkegaard,” and yet no current study provides an extended, convincing reason why this is so, why Updike came to live by Søren Kierkegaard’s ideas. David Crowe’s upcoming book Cosmic Defiance (November 2014) does, telling the story of Updike’s life-altering encounter with Fear and Trembling in early career, and tracing the subsequent evolution of Updike’s complex and coherent theology. Examining Updike’s many claims about Kierkegaard’s life and work, and casting those claims into debate with Kierkegaard’s best scholars and critics, this book explains why Kierkegaard and his intellectual inheritors Karl Barth and Miguel de Unamuno provided Updike with a reason to live, and a vocation as an antinomian Christian writer. The study pursues the same question Updike did: How are identity and action bound up with faith in God? Updike’s eighteen intensely autobiographical Maples stories, chapters in the tale of a 22-year marriage that begins hopefully but ends in divorce, epitomize the theological preoccupations Updike learned from Kierkegaard: becoming an authentic self and learning to love the neighbor creatively rather than compulsively.

There you go. Happy Birthday Mr. Updike.

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One thought on “Happy Birthday John Updike—and a little Kierkegaard too!

  1. Perhaps I should say Angstrom’s awareness of the signs, or, to be a bit more accurate, Updike’s descriptions of Angstrom’s awareness of the signs, rather than the signs themselves.


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