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LYNN NEARY, host:

The literary world suffered a giant loss today. American author John Updike died at the age of 76 of lung cancer. Updike's torrent of writing included poetry, short stories, essays, literary criticism, and of course his famous novels, which dealt with life in middle-class America, from divorce to death, sports to sex. Neal Conan talked to him on this show back in October and asked him after his forays into to race, and sex, and class. Were there any boundaries left for his writing to cross?

(Soundbite of John Updike interview)

Mr. JOHN UPDIKE (American Novelist): Envelopes to push, it's sort of hard to tell until you've seen them pushed, you know? But I do think the big problem in a way for a fiction writer is how do you deal with ordinary life that is not extraordinary, that does not involve heroism, that does not involve a crisis really, but the way in which we are alive is meaningful and it does have a certain radiance, the beauty of - the beauty of the actual. So that's what I keep pushing at whether or not it's an envelope that's already been slit wide open, I don't know.

NEARY: Updike's books met that challenge peering at the range of passion and emotion behind the variety of closed doors from angst-ridden suburban America and the rabid novels to the rage of a young radical in his book "Terrorist." Still his books resonated with rye, humor and delight. He not only liked observing life, he liked living it as well.

(Soundbite of John Updike interview)

Mr. UPDIKE: I think of myself as quite a fortunate and happy person. I was a happy child, my mother tells me. And I'm glad to be able to be a writer. It's what I wanted to be, some kind of artist as a child and I have become that. I've actually done better than he thought possible. No, I love life. I love being alive. I love being an American. So, all these things are - I think that make me a happy person. I'm not happy about the fact that I'm going - that I'm aging and getting older and losing my fastball and going on to die before too - too very long. So - but, if you love life I think you have to reconcile yourself to the - to the darker side of being a mortal - mortal creature.

NEARY: It was October on the brink of the election and we asked him how to felt about the country he had chronicled for so long.

(Soundbite of John Updike interview with Neal Conan)

Mr. UPDIKE: I think it's - in a way a very hopeful moment for America. The century is young. We still feel like a young country, although we're not anymore, and I'd like to think we're embarking with this election, upon a fresh path.

CONAN: But we'll have you back in a couple of years to see how it worked out for you.

Mr. UPDIKE: All right. It's a date.

NEARY: John Updike, he died today at the age of 76. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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