Writers as Progenitors and Offspring

  • John Updike


As both the son and father of a writer, I feel doubly qualified for this topic. My mother wrote in the front bedroom, beside a window curtained in dotted swiss. With a small child’s eyes I see her desk, her little Remington with its elite face, and the brown envelopes that carried her patiently tapped-out manuscripts to New York City and then back to Shillington, Pennsylvania. I smell the fresh paper, the damp ink on the ribbon as it jerkily unfurls from spool to spool, the rubber flecks of eraser buried within the slanted bank of springy keys — an alphabet in the wrong order. We used to travel together to Hintz’s stationery store in Reading, and there was beauty and power and opulence in the ceiling-high shelves of fresh reams, of tinted labels and yellow octagonal pencils in numbered degrees of hardness and softness, of tablets and moisteners and even little scales to weigh letters upon. Three cents an ounce it took in those days to send a story to a Manhattan magazine, or to the Saturday Evening Post in nearby Philadelphia, and what a wealth of expectation hovered in the air until Mr Miller, our plodding, joking mailman, hurled the return envelope through the front-door letter slot! There was a novel, too, that slept in a ream box that had been emptied of blankness, and, like a strange baby in the house, a difficult papery sibling, the manuscript was now and then roused out of its little rectangular crib and rewritten and freshly swaddled in hope. My mother’s silence, at her desk, was among the mysteries — her faith aroma of mental sweat, of concentration as if in prayer.


Return Envelope Wrong Order Saturday Evening Wall Decoration Macmillan Publisher 
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© John Updike 2004

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  • John Updike

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