“I feel my assignment is the United States of America as it exists in these decades.”
That’s John Updike in 1981, offering his version of an artist’s statement on the October 14 episode of The Dick Cavett Show, where he appeared alongside his friend and now fellow Library of America author John Cheever. Resurrected online via the New York Times, the nearly half-hour program is recommended viewing for fans of either author. It aired one week after Updike published his tenth novel, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Rabbit Is Rich, which is included in the newest Library of America Updike volume, Novels 1978–1984.
Cheever praises Rabbit Is Rich on the Cavett show, and is equally effusive, when the conversation takes an unexpected detour into baseball and sportswriting, about Updike’s Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu. Extending the air of tweedy bonhomie, Updike in turn gives a characteristically eloquent assessment of his friend’s work:
I don’t know—he just makes me feel as though I’m living in an interesting world and a world that is a kind of paradise, or could be, or was.
It’s not a gift given to every writer. I think one trouble with most fiction—with many fiction writers is that we feel a drabness here, the drabness of our everyday lives, and there’s no shift in gears somehow, whereas John does bring us without effort onto a plane where somehow things really matter.
Watch via the embedded player above or on the New York Times website.