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Three teenage girls walk into a grocery store wearing only bathing suits.
Nope, this isn't the start of a corny joke. It's the plot of John Updike's famous short story, "A&P." One of the shortest and funniest stories you'll probably ever read, it's often found in anthologies and taught in schools.
Updike was a famous novelist, poet, and literary critic who won gazillions of awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes. He wrote hundreds of short stories, many of which first appeared in The New Yorker, where Updike worked for a big chunk of his career. "A&P," first published in 1961, is one of those stories. It was later published in a collection of stories called Pigeon Feathers. Updike is most famous for his series of novels featuring Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. If you like A&P, you'll probably really love the Rabbit novels. You can start with the first one, Rabbit, Run.
Updike was 29 and gushing out short stories like a faucet when he wrote "A&P." He was on a constant hunt for new ideas, and on a mission to chronicle every aspect of middle-class American life. One day, while driving past an A&P grocery store, Updike wondered why nobody ever set a story there. This question reminded him of seeing a woman dressed in her bathing suit in the grocery store. Updike was intrigued by her break from tradition and stunned by seeing near-nudity where one normally didn't see it (source). Whereas we might sneakily snap a photo on our phone and upload it to Facebook or peopleofwalmart.com, Updike wrote a whole story about the funny situation. And it became famous. Pretty awesome, if you ask us.
Are you a fashion trendsetter? Or do you dread getting dressed to leave the house and prefer PJs and slippers?
Do you dress to blend in or stick out?
Do you go to school or work in a place with a dress code? Do you wear a uniform? Do you show skin?
All these questions are inspired by John Updike's "A&P," a very short story about three girls wearing their bathing suits into a grocery store in the early 1960s (back when people were way more stuffy). How do people react to these girls? Well, you'll just have to read the story to find out. But while you read the story, think about this: Should people be able to wear whatever they want, wherever they want? Is it better to conform to social norms in public, or proudly stand out?
The Poetry Foundation has a short bio of Updike.
"Showing Ordinary Life as Worth Writing About"
Another bio, this one from the Academy of Achievement.
A short film based on the novel.
The Art of Fiction, Number 33
Read Updike's interview in The Paris Review.
"As Close As You Can Get to the Stars"
A Salon interview with Updike.
In this video interview, Updike tells you everything you ever wanted to know about his classic short story.
Eyes tired? Just sit back and listen.
Author Allegra Goodman reads "A&P" for your listening pleasure.
White-haired Updike looks excited and animated in this shot.
Here's a young Updike. We imagine Sammy a bit like this.
"John Updike: A Life In Pictures"
See Updike at various stages of his life.