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Updike Papers Now at Harvard

Posted by on October 7, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Updike as a young'un.

As many of you may remember, famed author and Harvard grad John Updike ’54 died earlier this year. Literary enthusiasts mourned the death of the man whose sharp humor and attentive descriptions captivated readers. Updike’s passing was especially close to home, as he wrote for The Lampoon in his undergraduate years before becoming a nationally celebrated literary figure. Those unfamiliar with Updike’s work, however, may still have an opportunity to learn about it—without a trip to Lamont.

As reported earlier today, Harvard now has many of Updike’s papers, which are expected to be kept in Houghton Library. Of course, visitors will not be allowed to check out those papers, but the materials will be available to researchers and students.

“Lined up, the entire archive stretches 380 linear feet. It spans 1,500 books, including Updike’s collection of his own work, published in foreign languages and English, as well as books Updike reviewed – with his pencil marks underlining the text, making notes in the margins, or bracketing a particularly well-turned phrase.” []

Undergraduates, on the other hand, may not often find occasion to visit Houghton Library; Lamont and Widener offer actual study space and books for checkout. Still, Houghton is filled with literary treasures and historical artifacts chronicling both the early days of the novel and some of the genre’s most acclaimed work. Now much of John Updike’s work will have a new home next to the manuscripts of luminaries such as William Blake and Emily Dickinson.

For the time being, we do not know whether Updike’s papers will be on display for public viewing. Regardless, this acquisition may present a valuable opportunity for both top researchers and interested undergrads. If you have not read Rabbit Run or The Witches of Eastwick, not to worry: copies abound in the Coop and many other bookstores. As art outlives the artist, John Updike will not be forgotten—certainly not at Harvard.

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