Updike Delivers a Sold out Buckner Lecture

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wilmington, N.C. - When Philip Furia, past chair and professor of the University of North Carolina Department of Creative Writing, introduced John Updike to the capacity crowd gathered in Kenan Auditorium on the evening of Oct. 23 he went back to his days as a student. "I first encountered the writing of John Updike as an MFA student at the Iowa Writers Workshop," said Furia. "On the first day of my first class, the teacher said, 'It's my job to teach you how to become writers, so I'm going to start off with the best way I know how to do that.' He opened a book, said 'Try to write like this,' and read us a story by John Updike."

Described as "an athlete of word and image," Updike has published 22 novels, 15 short story collections, 9 collections of essays, 7 volumes of poetry, 5 books for children, a play and a memoir. Furia joked, "There is a legend that in John Updike's house he has three studies - one for writing poetry, one for nonfiction, and one for fiction."

The New Yorker published Updike's first short story, "Friends from Philadelphia," which he described as "fragile," and read aloud to the night's attendees. He shared with the crowd the memory of receiving the acceptance letter "in a tin mailbox on a dusty road in June of 1954." Admitting to a "fondness" for the The New Yorker since childhood, Updike would later join the staff. "I went in early each day and gradually wrote my first novel in the offices of The New Yorker."

In addition to his first published story, he read four recent poems and two more poems by an impromptu request. He then moved to the center of the stage and sat down with Rebecca Lee, UNCW associate professor of creative writing and author of the acclaimed The City is a Rising Tide, who read questions from the audience.

Updike spoke to creative writing students earlier in the day. He shared with them that he originally aspired to be a cartoonist and is still heavily influenced by visual artists. "I'm more likely to go to the MET (The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art) to be inspired to write, than I am to talk to other writers."

His advice to students on writing, "The voice is dictated by the material, the style is shaped by facts, one sentence breeds another."

In addition to twice winning the Pulitzer Prize, Updike's many other accolades include the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the Rea Award for the Short Story, the National Book Critics Circle Award (twice, for Fiction and Criticism), the National Book Award and both the National Medal of Arts and the National Medal of Humanities.

Updike read as part of the Katherine K. Buckner Lecture Series, established by Charles F. Green, III, who was present and recognized at the reading. The series brings distinguished guest presenters to UNCW in honor of Green's friend, Katherine K. Buckner and is co-sponsored by the UNCW Department of Creative Writing. Past Buckner Lecturers include poets Philip Levine and Jorie Graham and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.