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John Updike Collections

The John Updike Collections of the Alvernia University Archives and Special Collections

Silcox/Lewis Collection

Collection Number:                       MS1

Collection Title:                              David Silcox and Thelma Lewis Collection of John Updike Materials

Creators:                                          David Silcox and Thelma Kutch Lewis

Collection Dates:                            1904-2014

Extent:                                             20.6 linear feet

Former Accession Number:          2011/1

Background Note:

This collection is comprised primarily of materials produced by, for, and about John Updike. The major parts of the collection include:

  • Autographed and inscribed first editions, magazines and award programs,
  • Materials dealing with the area of Shillington Borough and Berks County, Pennsylvania, John Updike’s home through his high school years,
  • Correspondence and other materials related to his high school classmates with whom he held a close connection throughout his life.

John Hoyer Updike (1932-2009) was born on March 18, 1932 in Reading, Pennsylvania to Linda Grace Hoyer and Wesley Russell Updike and grew up in Shillington, Pennsylvania until 1945. At age thirteen he moved ten miles away to a family farm in Plowville, Pennsylvania. Updike graduated co-valedictorian and class president in 1950 from Shillington High School and attended Harvard University on full scholarship. Updike was a great contributor to the Harvard Lampoon and was president before his time at Harvard came to a close in 1954 with his degree in English Summa Cum Laude. He then attended the Ruskin School of Design at the University of Oxford before returning to the United States to become a member of the staff at The New Yorker, where he contributed many stories, poems and book reviews. In 1957 he moved to Massachusetts where he lived until his death on January 28, 2009.

Thelma Kutch Lewis (1918-2006) taught English and German at Shillington High School alongside John Updike’s father, Wesley, who taught mathematics. She knew John as his playground supervisor and as the faculty advisor to the Chatterbox, the student news and literary publication. Thelma married Ed Lewis who also taught at Shillington High. As residents of Shillington, she and her husband were personal friends of John’s parents for many years. He corresponded with her long after his graduation, often seeking her advice about his poems. Updike’s mother, Linda, gave Thelma much credit for encouraging John as a writer. Following the death of his mother, Thelma assumed the responsibility for keeping John informed of news about Shillington and his fellow classmates by mailing him clippings from the local newspapers.

David Silcox (1946- ) is a retired Industrial Engineer and longtime resident of Shillington. In the late 1990s, on Thelma’s recommendation, he became John’s local contact until the writer’s death. Like Thelma before him, he would keep John up to date on Shillington events. He would also mail John batches of newspaper clippings covering issues of interest in Berks County on a regular basis. He also would play the role of chauffeur for John whenever he would come back home to visit his mother and his high school classmates. He remained a loyal friend to his classmates throughout his life and would return often for their reunions.

This collection grew out of David’s relationship with John Updike and his lifelong passion for collecting. He realized the value of keeping certain mementoes and over the years he amassed a collection of the author’s published works as well as boxes of memorabilia. Upon donating his collection to Alvernia, he stated, “the Updike pieces are near and dear to my heart, where they came from and how I collected them, and the personal association. I want it to stay together.”

In April 2009, the John Updike Society was founded (in the dining room of his Shillington home) by David, Jack De Bellis, James Plath, and James Schiff. In 2013, Dr. De Bellis with David, published John Updike’s Early Years based on extensive interviews conducted with John’s classmates.

Silcox/Lewis Collection Finding Aid