Page last updated at 21:22 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

US novelist Updike dies of cancer

John Updike

Renowned US novelist John Updike has died at the age of 76, his publisher has announced. He had been suffering from lung cancer.

Updike won many top literary prizes, including Pulitzers for two volumes of his famous Rabbit series.

In about 50 books over half a century, he chronicled sex, divorce and other aspects of life in post-war America.

He once told an interviewer that his subject was "the American small town, Protestant middle class".

He died in a hospice near his home in Beverly Farms, Massachussetts, his publisher said.

The son of a schoolmaster, Updike was born in Pennsylvania in 1932 and, after attending Harvard, spent a year as an art student in Oxford in the UK.

Later he joined the staff of the New Yorker magazine, to which he contributed numerous poems, essays and short stories.

Updike's first novel, The Poorhouse Fair, was published in 1959. The following year, though, saw the publication of the book which established him as one of the greatest novelists of his age, Rabbit, Run.

Rabbit, Run, 1960
Couples, 1968
Rabbit Redux, 1971
The Witches of Eastwick, 1984
Memories of the Ford Administration, 1992

It marked the debut of his most enduring character, Harold "Rabbit" Angstrom.

In the following decades he would write sequels, including Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, charting the course of a man's life - his job, marriage, affairs, minor triumphs and death.

The death was announced by publisher Alfred A Knopf.

"He was one of our greatest writers and he will be sorely missed," Knopf publicity director Nicholas Latimer said.

In an interview, Updike explained why most of his novels were about the lives of ordinary Americans.

"The writer must face the fact that ordinary lives are what most people live most of the time, and that the novel as a narration of the fantastic and the adventurous is really an escapist plot; that aesthetically the ordinary, the banal, is what you must deal with."

A marvellously evocative writer

In September 2001, Updike was visiting relatives in New York when he found himself witnessing the attack on the World Trade Centre.

The experience led to one of his last novels, Terrorist, in which he imagined the life of a radicalised American Muslim.

"To actually be seeing it not a mile away was very moving, very disturbing, very unsettling. It's like the bottom fell out of your own existence, somehow."

Updike also wrote The Witches of Eastwick in 1984, which was made into a film starring Jack Nicholson, Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon.

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