Many people love the literary works of John Updike. The Pulitzer prize-winning author was a prolific writer, poet, art critic, and literary critic. He was also a resident of Pennsylvania’s Americana Region, a place that influenced his writings immensely.
Born March 18, 1932, in Reading, Pennsylvania, Updike lived with his family in nearby Shillington, later moving to the village of Plowville. A gifted student, he earned a full scholarship to Harvard upon graduation from high school in 1950. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1954 with a degree in English. Most sources say Updike’s literary career started after he left Harvard, as a New Yorker staff writer, penning “Talk of the Town” columns and short stories or poetry. I think John Updike’s writing career started here, in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region. It was here that he began to formulate the characters and places that populated his works.
Take for example Updike’s best-known Rabbit series of novels. The fictitious town where the story of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is set is Reading. The places described in the novel are loosely disguised spots in Berks County. In fact, when it came time to turn the first of the three books, Rabbit Run, into a movie, parts of it were shot in the area. Many residents still recall the thrill of being hired as a set extra and watching the film being shot in local neighborhoods.
For Updike fans, a trip to PA’s Americana Region is well worth your time. Visit places that were part of Updike’s youth. The Reading Eagle Company, the newspaper where Updike worked as a copy boy still operates on Penn Street in Reading. Two restaurants Updike patronized while employed by the paper, The Peanut Bar, and a corner luncheonette, are still open for business. Updike also spent time at the Reading Public Library. The library now boasts an incredible archival collection of Updike that was donated by the author himself and includes works from his mother’s collection.
Additionally, Alvernia University, with the help of the John Updike Society, has become the permanent home of a collection of the author’s works. Furthermore, Updike’s childhood home in Shillington was recently turned into the John Updike Childhood Museum. The John Updike Society purchased the house and began extensive renovations to more accurately depict the home as it stood when the Updike family resided there. Incredibly, a dogwood tree that was planted in the side yard on Updike’s first birthday still stands at the Shillington site. The museum is a work in progress and has limited hours.
Pennsylvania’s Americana Region is proud to be the birthplace of this great American author. We invite you to visit John Updike’s hometown, a place that provided him abundant inspiration. See what bits and pieces of Updike’s early life and Pennsylvania’s Americana Region you can find in his works.