U.S. writer John Updike dies

BOSTON Tue Jan 27, 2009 8:27pm GMT

1 of 2. Author John Updike poses in an undated handout photo. Updike, a leading writer of his generation who chronicled the emotional drama of American small-town life with searing wit and vivid prose, died on January 27, 2009 of lung cancer. He was 76.

Credit: Reuters/Elena Seibert/Knopf/Handout

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BOSTON (Reuters) - American author John Updike, a leading writer of his generation who chronicled the emotional drama of American small-town life with searing wit and vivid prose, died on Tuesday of lung cancer. He was 76.

"It is with great sadness that I report that John Updike died this morning," said Nicholas Latimer of Alfred A. Knopf, a unit of Random House. "He was one of our greatest writers, and he will be sorely missed."

Updike died in a hospice in Massachusetts, the state where he lived for many years.

Updike was known for mining themes of sexual tension, and spiritual and moral angst in small-town settings -- issues he explored through his four novels and a novella about the life of the fictional Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom.

"Rabbit is Rich," published in 1981, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A decade later, "Rabbit at Rest" won a second Pulitzer.

One of America's most prolific writers, Updike was acclaimed nearly as much for his short stories, poetry and critical essays as for his novels.

For many readers, he was well known as a seemingly endless source of short stories in The New Yorker magazine.

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, he studied English at Harvard University, where he contributed to, and later edited, the satirical Harvard Lampoon magazine. He later joined the writing staff of the New Yorker.

In a Reuters interview in 2005, he said his view of himself as a writer had changed in recent years as he produced an increasing volume of art and literary criticism and struggled with the short-story medium.

When asked which genre he preferred -- short stories, novels, poetry or criticism -- he paused.

"If I had been asked that 10 years ago I would have said short stories is where I feel most at home. I'm not sure I do feel totally at home any more, whether I have maybe written all my short stories," he said.

"In a short story, as short a form as it is, you've got to make everything count towards a certain effect at the end. That's maybe a muscular feat that I've lost muscle to perform," he added. "But anyway I'm still trying."

He was candid about the need to get writing published and paid for, saying:

"I've become much more of a book reviewer and an art reviewer for that matter than I ever planned to. At least there is a comfort when you sit down to write one of these that you'll be sure that it will get printed and you'll get paid for it. It's not the case with a short story."

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York, Editing by Frances Kerry)

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