A Death in the Harvard Family: John Updike ’54, Litt.D. ’92

Noted author John Updike ’54, Litt.D. ’92, died of lung cancer on January 27 at the age of 76.

John Updike ’54, Litt.D. ’92

Novelist, essayist, humorist, and poet John Updike ’54, Litt.D. ’92, died of lung cancer today. A former president of the Harvard Lampoon,  Updike went on to write more than 50 books and win two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Book Awards, among his other honors. One of those was a doctorate of letters from Harvard; the citation on the honorary degree read: Your words, living on the page, have given us a profound vision of a familiar society and have shown us as if in a mirror an image of our human nature in a perplexed time, with all our frailties and our constant desire to find an intelligible place in this world of ours.

In a statement issued on Tuesday evening, Harvard president Drew Faust said, “John Updike was one of America's foremost men of letters, and Harvard has been proud to have him as a member of our family since he arrived in Cambridge as an undergraduate nearly sixty years ago.  Few writers in our time could rival his elegance and incisiveness, or the inventive craftsmanship he brought to his novels, his essays, and his short stories.  He will be missed by his many admirers throughout the Harvard community, along with his millions of grateful readers around the world."  ”

The writer maintained his association with the University after graduation: receiving the Harvard Arts Medal in 1998, for example. He also contributed to this magazine and, beginning in the 1960s, deposited his papers at the Houghton Library, continuing to add to that archive until the end of his life.

For further coverage of Updike's career, see this link to the New York Times.

From the Harvard Magazine archives, see “The Prankster’s Secret” for a glimpse of Updike’s Lampoon years, and this review of his recent collection Still Looking: Essays on American Art. Other facets of the writer appear in his Phi Beta Kappa poem of 1973; an interview, “The industrious drifter from room 2,” conducted in 1974, and brief thoughts about Harvard that he shared on the eve of the University’s 350th anniversary.

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