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AMHERST, Mass.—William H. Pritchard, Henry Clay Folger Professor of English at Amherst College, has just published Updike: America’s Man of Letters ($27, 332 pp., Steerforth Press, South Royalton, Vermont), the first comprehensive critical look at the work, career and literary reputation of one of America’s most influential men of letters.
Updike’s career as a writer began early. By the age of 28, he had published works of poetry, short stories and novels. Over the next 40 years, he continued to create in these three major forms, and also in essays, reviews, memoirs, musings and commentary on his earlier work.
Pritchard has taken on the challenge of making a coherent story of Updike’s literary progress from book to book; from his first fictions, The Same Door and The Poorhouse Fair, both published in 1959, to the novel (Gertrude and Claudius) and stories (Licks of Love) published this year. He writes that Updike: America’s Man of Letters “is not a biography”. “As in my earlier accounts of the literary careers of Wyndham Lewis or Robert Frost or Randall Jarrell, my practice here has been to take chronology seriously by using it to tell a story of Updike’s progress from one book to the next.”
Pritchard, a 1953 graduate of Amherst, has taught at the college since 1958. He is an eminent critic and the author of, among many other works, Talking Back to Emily Dickinson and Other Essays (1998); English Papers: A Teaching Life (1995); Randall Jarrell: A Literary Life (1990); Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered (1984); Lives of the Modern Poets (1980) and Wyndham Lewis (1968).