Arts & Culture

UCLA’s Spoken Words Opens With Literary Great, John Updike

UCLAlive has featured their Spoken Word Series and premiered the series with one of the literature’s greatest modern men. John Updike sat down onstage with David Ulin, Book Editor of the Los Angeles Times, to talk about Updike’s latest book, writing, and the procession of time.

The first item to be discussed was Updike’s latest novel, “The Widows of Eastwick”, a sequel to his tremendously popular, “The Witches of Eastwick”, written almost a quarter of a century ago. The 1984 bestseller was made into a film in 1989, starring Michelle Pfeiffer. While Updike remarks that he was fascinated by how some of the actors, namely Pfeiffer, breathed a new life into his characters, he was disappointed by what the filmmakers left out. “The Widows of Eastwick”, he said, was partly an attempt to reassert how he understood these women and “how he had thought he had written them”.

Indeed much of the discussion was focused on how Updike writes. Anyone familiar with great writers can tell you that one of the most interesting aspects of Updike’s career is his staggering prolificacy. Updike has produced almost 30 novels, countless short stories, and has been a regular contributor for magazines such as The New Yorker for years. Part of his tendency towards writing en masse, he says, comes out of his primary understanding of a writer as a magazine writer. In writing for a periodical, one writes a certain amount by a certain weekly deadline, and thus the writer is constantly writing. This style of production is more “British”, Updike says, while the American way is more “constipated”, needing “lots of gestation to produce a masterpiece.

Another prominent topic of conversation that evening was the concept of age, how it affects one’s writing, and ultimately how it influences one’s life. Ulin talked of the fierceness in which Updike wrote in his 30’s and 40’s and wondered how that may have changed over the years. Updike, now almost 80, told Ulin that, “when you are young, you still believe you have news”. By now however, it seems his writing has changed gears. Updike has moved on to a more exploratory way of writing. “The Widows of Eastwick“, Updike says, “Is about our need for others“. He talks of old age as a “retreating into solitude. We become eccentric and crazy because there is no one there to check our actions”.

John Updike’s words and insights are quite possibly placed somewhere along the bookshelves of all of our houses. UCLAlive’s Spoken Word Series however, provides us an opportunity to hear those words straight from the horse’s mouth.

The success of UCLAlive’s opening event points to a fabulous series to come. The fantastic upcoming roster includes such greats Edward Albee on February 7th, Warner Herzog on February 20th, the brilliant Oliver Sacks on April 23rd, and the favorite genius comic, David Sedaris on April 29th. And only by sitting in the audience in Royce Hall can we listen for the gems that have long been germinating in the minds of our culture’s greatest writers. Sometimes reading just doesn’t cut it.

Check out UCLAlive’s full Spoken Word Series event calendar at By giving us the opportunity to hear these brilliant minds speak on their craft, UCLAlive again brings tremendous culture and dimension to our Los Angeles community. Writer or not, these artists are worth going to see. Much of their advice reaches far beyond the page, speaking not just about some of the best ways to write, but also about some of the best ways to live.

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