His own man

By Jim Concannon
Globe Staff / July 21, 2009

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be the child of someone famous, successful, even revered? Sure, the likely extra money would be nice, as would the easy social entree that’s your birthright. But in the end would your parent’s fame be a help or a hindrance in charting your own life course? In other words, how would you manage to make your last name your own?

David Updike is the son of the legendary John Updike, the novelist, poet, short-story writer, and critic who lived on the North Shore and whose death last winter prompted a massive outpouring of appreciation for “America’s man of letters.’’ Friends and colleagues agreed that Updike, endlessly upbeat and insightful, was one of a kind.

So David (above) has followed his own path, teaching English at Roxbury Community College, an urban campus short on resources and long on hope, for more than 20 years. Along the way, he has written a quartet of young-adult titles and a short-story collection. And he has just published another, “Old Girlfriends,’’ 10 subtle tales that chronicle a budding love affair, a son’s visit to his mother, a professor’s infatuation with a student, and a therapist’s offbeat interactions.

One story, “A Word With the Boy,’’ shows a father’s sorrow when his biracial son encounters discrimination during a visit to London. (In real life, David married a Kenyan emigre.) The father desperately wants to erase his son’s pain, but of course can’t: “He has turned his face away from me, and has pulled the collar of his shirt to his eyes - to block out the light, I’d like to think, but it’s not true. I sit down on the bed beside him and lay my hand on his back. I can tell that he is not asleep, and has pulled up his shirt to hide from me his own tears.’’

“Old Girlfriends’’ is full of such soft yet charged moments, as the author weaves everyday observations into larger truths. Updike, who has managed to craft his own artful style, reads from the collection tonight at 7 at Harvard Book Store, 1256 Mass. Ave., Cambridge.

The blue and gray
Martha’s Vineyard author John Hough is back with “Seen the Glory,’’ a historical novel about two island brothers who join the Union Army and wind up in the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg. He’ll discuss his work on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Porter Square Books, 25 White St., Cambridge.

Soaring hopes
Kevin Henkes, who knew from an early age that he wanted to write and illustrate children’s books, eventually achieved his dream, winning the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 2005 for “Kitten’s First Full Moon.’’ He’ll read from his latest book, “Birds,’’ on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Wellesley Free Library, 530 Washington St.

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