Selected Shorts: A John Updike Celebration

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John Updike

We celebrate the American master John Updike with two stories hosted by Jane Kaczmarek.

Updike uncovered the extraordinary in the ordinary in stories written over fifty years.

His characters weren’t glamorous, or heroic. They were usually the kind of moderately affluent suburbanite he was himself. But his writing, often for The New Yorker, was poignant, vivid, and detailed. The people in his stories—their struggles to make sense of their lives, their marriages, and their children—seemed to speak to all of us. 

On this program, we feature two stories that were part of an evening at Symphony Space celebrating Updike, as well as an excerpt from the foreword quoted here, read by the playwright Tony Kushner. The occasion was the publication of Library of America’s John Updike: The Collected Stories.

In our first story, “Unstuck” a minor mishap strengthens a young couple’s marriage. It was first published in The New Yorker in 1962. Guest host Jane Kaczmarek is the reader. She is best known for her role as the extravagantly comic Mom, Lois, on “Malcolm in the Middle.” Other television work includes appearances on “Wilfred,” “Whitney,” “The Middle,” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” She can also be heard on episodes of “The Simpsons” and “Jake and the Neverland Pirates.” Films include “Pleasantville,” and “Falling in Love,” and she’s appeared on stage in “Lost In Yonkers” and “Raised in Captivity,” among other works.

It’s a measure of Updike’s long career that the two stories on this show were published exactly thirty years apart. Our second, “Playing with Dynamite,” ran in The New Yorker in 1992. The main character is an aging man looking back with bemusement on a long life, his memories as palpable and real as anything in the present.

The reader is two-time Oscar winner Sally Field (“Norma Rae,” “Places in the Heart”); other awards include the Emmy for her work in the television film “Sybil,” and on the series “ER” and “Brothers & Sisters.” She makes her SELECTED SHORTS debut with this reading.

Over the course of his long career Updike won almost every award there is for fiction, including the National Book Award, the Pulitzer and the Rea Award for the Short Story. On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of this award, Updike spoke briefly at Symphony Space. Listen to those words here:

“Unstuck,” by John Updike, performed by Jane Kaczmarek

“Playing with Dynamite,” by John Updike, performed by Sally Field.

The SELECTED SHORTS theme is David Peterson's “That's the Deal,” performed by the Deardorf/Peterson Group.

For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit

We’re interested in your response to these programs. Please comment on this site or visit

And for more thoughts on the stories in SHORTS, check out literary commentator Hannah Tinti’s site at