The John Updike Archive at Harvard

27 Jun
John Updike (1932 - 2009)

John Updike (1932 – 2009)

After work today I joined some writer friends to go see the John Updike archive at Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Leslie Morris, Houghton’s curator of modern books and manuscripts, is quoted in the Harvard Gazette as saying that the items on display, including two of Updike’s rough drafts, “[help] you understand where he came from, how he developed in the ways that he did.”

Seeing one of his rough drafts marked up in red pencil in the same way that I mark up my own rough drafts reminded me that the drudgery of the writing, rewriting, tweaking, rewriting and so on is a process that all writers – even the most prolific – go through.

The archives also contained typed correspondence to Updike from John Cheever, Philip Roth and Kurt Vonnegut. You can glean certain information from the letters, but I would have liked to have seen a few of Updike’s letters in response to these other writers.

Although I’m glad that I got to see the archives (and the Houghton Library – well worth the visit, by the way, and free), I did feel disappointed that there wasn’t more to see and absorb. Perhaps I’m comparing Updike’s archive with one I saw recently, in April, when I viewed the more extensive David Foster Wallace archive on display at the Harry Ransom Center at UT-Austin. Wallace’s archive is fascinating and devastating, and well worth seeing if you happen to live in or visit the Austin area.

Overall, my takeaway from today was something I already know, which is that the best writers have talent, yes, but they also work incredibly hard to get their work from draft to publication. It motivates me to keep working and improving my fiction.

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2 Responses to “The John Updike Archive at Harvard”

  1. Tracy Staedter June 28, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    Wonderful! Would love to see that archive and those markups. Would love a curated collection of fiction markups from famous authors.

    • E.M. June 28, 2012 at 9:26 am #

      I agree! It would be great to see a whole collection of drafts by different authors and the markups they made on them.

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Tracy Staedter

Science writing, editing and workshops

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