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Rabbit Hunt: Introducing the Donald J. and Ellen Greiner Collection of John Updike

Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library


The time had come for Don and Ellen Greiner to find a new home for their John Updike collection.

Don Greiner, surrounded by John Updike books
and posters, in his University Libraries office

“Once you’ve put together a collection like this, there are three things you can do with it: you can give it to your family, you can sell it or you can pass it on to the next generation of students and researchers,” said Don Greiner, an English professor emeritus and Updike scholar who has published three books and dozens of essays about the American novelist. “If you choose the latter, you hope your collection will continue to be built upon. I know ours won’t be stagnant because I’ve seen how the University Libraries grow and care for their collections.”

Greiner and his wife have breathed life into other USC collections. The Donald J. and Ellen Greiner Collections of James Dickey, John Hawkes and Frederick Busch also live in the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. The Greiners see regular additions being made and scores of students and scholars using the materials. They wanted those researchers to have the same access to Updike, a two-time Pulitzer-Prize winner.

The Donald J. and Ellen Greiner Collection of John Updike proves that, for much of his academic career, Greiner was on the hunt for all things Updike.

The Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom four-novel series is arguably Updike’s most famous work. Naturally, the Greiner collection has copies of these books — first editions, in fine condition. The copy of Rabbit at Rest was inscribed by Updike: “For Donald Greiner, who knows more about me than I do.”

John Updike, left, and Don Greiner in
Thomas Cooper Library, during Updike's visit to USC, 1982

The collection includes broadsides, posters, self-portraits and handwritten letters and typescripts. Amazingly enough, the collection boasts two love poems penned by a 10-year-old Updike and shyly handed to Jackie, the girl who sat in front of him in fifth grade. For 70 years Jackie saved those tender poems, and she offered them to Greiner in 2014.

When it came to finding Updike materials, Greiner mined a rich field. Updike authored 22 novels, 15 short story collections,11 essay collections, seven poetry collections, five children’s books, a memoir and a play. He also contributed fi ction, poetry, essays and criticism to The New Yorker magazine for 50 years. He died in 2009 at the age of 76.

“John and I corresponded for years,” said Greiner, an award-winning teacher and scholar who served for 11 years as USC associate provost and dean of undergraduate studies. “We met twice: once in 1998 when he came to USC to give a talk on literary biography, and again in 2001 at a conference. He seemed to be the most cordial, pleasant and smiling man, always willing to talk about the writing life.”

From the collection: the April 1968 (front) and
October 1982 issues of TIME magazine
with Updike cover stories

Adding the Updike collection to the Irvin Department strengthens all of the department’s American literature holdings, Greiner said.

“I’m extremely pleased that our collections will join Joel Myerson’s Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman collections, and Matthew Bruccoli’s F. Scott Fitzgerald and Great War collections. Together they provide an in-depth look at early, modern and contemporary American literature.”

The Updike collection is on deposit at the libraries and will be given to the University as a bequest.

Always the scholar, Greiner is still actively engaged in publishing essays based on the collection.


This article originally appeared in University Libraries minizine, Fall 2016.