|Born||John Wallace Blunt, Jr.
March 2, 1942
Exeter, New Hampshire, US
|Notable work(s)||The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany|
|Notable award(s)||Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay|
Irving achieved critical and popular acclaim after the international success of The World According to Garp in 1978. Some of Irving's novels, such as The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany, have been bestsellers. Five of his novels have been adapted to film. Several of Irving's books (Garp, Meany, A Widow for One Year) and short stories have been set in and around Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1999 for his script The Cider House Rules.
Irving was born John Wallace Blunt, Jr. in Exeter, New Hampshire, the son of Helen Frances (née Winslow) and John Wallace Blunt, Sr., a writer and executive recruiter. Irving grew up in Exeter, as the stepson of a Phillips Exeter Academy faculty member, Colin F.N. Irving (1941), and nephew of another, H. Hamilton "Hammy" Bissell (1929). Irving was in the Phillips Exeter wrestling program both as a student athlete and as an assistant coach, and wrestling features prominently in his books, stories and life. Irving's biological father, whom he never met, had been a pilot in the Army Air Forces and during World War II was shot down over Burma in July 1943, but survived (an incident incorporated into the novel The Cider House Rules). Irving did not find out about his father's heroism until 1981.
Irving's career began at the age of 26 with the publication of his first novel, Setting Free the Bears. The novel was reasonably well reviewed, but failed to gain a large readership. In the late 1960s, he studied with Kurt Vonnegut at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. His second and third novels, The Water-Method Man (1972) and The 158-Pound Marriage (1974), were similarly received. In 1975, Irving accepted a position as assistant professor of English at Mount Holyoke College.
Frustrated at the lack of promotion his novels were receiving from his first publisher, Random House, Irving offered his fourth novel, The World According to Garp (1978), to Dutton, which promised him stronger commitment to marketing. The novel became an international bestseller and cultural phenomenon. It was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction in 1979 (received by Tim O'Brien for Going After Cacciato) and its first paperback edition won the Award next year.[a] Garp was later made into a film directed by George Roy Hill and starring Robin Williams in the title role and Glenn Close as his mother; it garnered several Academy Award nominations, including nominations for Close and John Lithgow. Irving makes a brief cameo in the film as an official in one of Garp's high school wrestling matches.
Though it is not a widely known fact, The World According to Garp was among three books recommended to the Pulitzer Advisory Board for consideration for the 1979 Award in Fiction in the Pulitzer Jury Committee report, along with The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever. The award was given to The Stories of John Cheever.
Garp transformed Irving from an obscure, academic literary writer to a household name, and his subsequent books were bestsellers. The next was The Hotel New Hampshire (1981), which sold well despite mixed reviews from critics. Like Garp, the novel was quickly made into a film, this time directed by Tony Richardson and starring Jodie Foster, Rob Lowe, and Beau Bridges. "Interior Space," a short story published in Fiction magazine in 1980, was given an O. Henry Award (and thus collected in its eponymous anthology from 1981).
In 1985, Irving published The Cider House Rules. An epic set in a Maine orphanage, the novel's central topic is abortion. Many drew parallels between the novel and Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. Irving's next novel was A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989), another New England family epic about religion set in a New England boarding school and in Toronto, Ontario. The novel was influenced by The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, and the plot contains further allusions to The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the works of Dickens. In Owen Meany, Irving for the first time examined the consequences of the Vietnam War—particularly mandatory conscription, which Irving avoided because he was a married father when of age for the draft. Owen Meany became Irving's best selling book since Garp, and is now a frequent feature on high school English reading lists.
Irving returned to Random House for his next book, A Son of the Circus (1995). Arguably his most complicated and difficult book, and a departure from many of the themes and location settings in his previous novels, it was dismissed by critics but became a national bestseller on the strength of Irving's reputation for fashioning literate, engrossing page-turners. Irving returned in 1998 with A Widow for One Year, which was named a New York Times Notable Book.
Irving has had four novels reach number one on the bestseller list of The New York Times: The Hotel New Hampshire (September 27, 1981), which stayed number one for seven weeks, and was in the top 15 for over 27 weeks, The Cider House Rules (June 16, 1985), A Widow for One Year (June 14, 1998), and The Fourth Hand (July 29, 2001).
In 1999, after nearly 10 years in development, Irving's screenplay for The Cider House Rules was made into a film directed by Lasse Hallström, starring Michael Caine, Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, and Delroy Lindo. Irving also made a cameo appearance as the disapproving stationmaster. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and earned Irving an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Soon after, Irving wrote My Movie Business, a memoir about his involvement in creating the film version of The Cider House Rules. After its publication, Irving appeared on the CBC Television program Hot Type to promote the book. During the interview, Irving criticized bestselling American author Tom Wolfe, saying Wolfe “can’t write,” and that his writing makes Irving gag. Wolfe appeared on Hot Type later that year, calling Irving, Norman Mailer and John Updike his “three stooges” who were panicked by his newest novel, A Man in Full.
When The Fourth Hand was published in 2001 it became a bestseller. A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound, a children's story originally included in A Widow for One Year, was published as a book with illustrations by Tatjana Hauptmann in 2004. Irving's novel, Until I Find You, was released on July 12, 2005.
On June 28, 2005, The New York Times published an article revealing that Until I Find You contains two specifically personal elements about his life that he had never before discussed publicly: his sexual abuse at age 11 by an older woman, and the recent entrance in his life of his biological father's family.
In his 12th novel, Last Night in Twisted River, published in 2009, Irving's central character is a novelist with "a career that teasingly follows Irving's own," as one journalist put it (e.g., including the aforementioned reference to Irving's own mandatory conscription).
Since the publication of Garp made him independently wealthy, Irving has been able to concentrate solely on fiction writing as a vocation, sporadically accepting short-term teaching positions (including one at his alma mater, the Iowa Writers' Workshop) and serving as an assistant coach on his sons' high school wrestling teams. (Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as an “Outstanding American” in 1992.) In addition to his novels, he has also published Trying to Save Piggy Sneed, a collection of his writings including a brief memoir and unpublished short fiction, My Movie Business, an account of the protracted process of bringing The Cider House Rules to the big screen, and The Imaginary Girlfriend, a short memoir focusing on writing and wrestling. In 2010, Irving revealed that he and Tod "Kip" Williams, director and writer of The Door in the Floor, are co-writing a screenplay for an adaptation of A Widow for One Year.
In recent years, his four most highly regarded novels, The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meany and A Widow for One Year, have been published in Modern Library editions. Owen Meany was adapted into the film Simon Birch (Irving required that the title and character names be changed because the screenplay's story was "markedly different" from that of the novel; Irving is on record as having enjoyed the film, however). In 2004, a portion of A Widow for One Year was adapted into The Door in the Floor, starring Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger.
In a New York Magazine interview in 2009, Irving stated that he had begun work on a new novel, his 13th, based in part on a speech from a play by Shakespeare, "Richard II." The novel, titled In One Person, was published in 2012 by Simon and Schuster, taking over from Random House. In One Person has a first-person viewpoint, Irving's first such narrative since A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving decided to change the first-person narrative of Until I Find You to third person less than a year before publication). In One Person features a 60 year-old, bisexual protagonist named William, looking back on his life in the 1950s and '60s. The novel shares a similar theme (and concern) with The World According to Garp, which was, in part, says Irving, about, "People who hate you for your sexual differences."
He won a Lambda Literary Award in 2013 in the Bisexual Fiction category for In One Person, and was also awarded the organization's Bridge Builder Award to honor him as an ally of the LGBT community.
On June 10, 2013, Irving revealed that his next novel, his 14th, will be titled Avenue of Mysteries after a street of that name in Mexico City. In an interview the previous year, he had revealed the last line of the book: "Not every collision course comes as a surprise." Simon and Schuster confirmed that they will publish this novel, which is tentatively scheduled for 2015.
Recurring subjects, symbols or character types in Irving's work include New England, sex workers, wrestling, Vienna, bears, deadly accidents, a main character and/or supporting characters who are writers of some sort (novelists, journalists, children's book authors, diarists, family historians, etc.), a main character dealing with an absent or unknown parent, a main character who is involved in film making, and unusual sexual relationships (and often what Irving has referred to as "sexual outsiders") such as incest, bestiality, or between young men and older women. Females who are both brash and ostentatious, while simultaneously fragile—from "Susie the Bear" and Franny Berry, to "Hester the Molester" and Emma Oastler—recur throughout most of Irving's novels. Severing of body parts (tongue, finger, hand, other) appears in several novels. Although they only play a significant part (symbolically and narratively) in three of Irving's novels ("Bears, Garp and Hotel), and matter-of-fact part in two others, most interviewers and readers seem to think that bears are a commonly recurring metaphor in his novels. In fact, the role of the writer (novelist, essayist, journalist, diarist, historian, etc.) is the most oft-used symbol and/or character-type in John Irving's oeuvre. Broadly speaking, Irving's novels tend to involve characters in the recent past (particularly, the 20th century), often outsiders (particularly in terms of sexuality or politics), and their attempts to find their way in life.
Irving has often used the literary technique of a story within a story.
- Setting Free the Bears (1968)
- The Water-Method Man (1972)
- The 158-Pound Marriage (1974)
- The World According to Garp (1978)
- The Hotel New Hampshire (1981)
- The Cider House Rules (1985)
- A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)
- A Son of the Circus (1994)
- The Imaginary Girlfriend (non-fiction, 1995)
- Trying to Save Piggy Sneed (collection, 1996)
- A Widow for One Year (1998)
- My Movie Business (non-fiction, 1999)
- The Cider House Rules: A Screenplay (1999)
- The Fourth Hand (2001)
- A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound (2004)
- Until I Find You (2005)
- Last Night in Twisted River (2009)
- In One Person (2012)
- Avenue of Mysteries (forthcoming)
In 1964 Irving married Shyla Leary, whom he had met at Harvard in 1963 while taking a summer course in German, before traveling to Vienna, Austria with IES Abroad. They had two sons, Colin and Brendan, and divorced in the early 1980s. In 1987, he married Janet Turnbull, who had been his publisher at Bantam-Seal Books and is now one of his literary agents. They have a son, Everett. Irving has homes in Vermont, Toronto, and Pointe au Baril. He soon became much involved in Toronto and so close to Robertson Davies that he was asked to and delivered part of Davies' 1995 funeral.
In 2010 Irving confirmed that he is a second cousin of Amy Bishop, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who is serving a life sentence for shooting six colleagues, killing three, during a department meeting in February 2010.
- [on his process for writing novels:] "I can't imagine what the first sentence is, I can't imagine where I want the reader to enter the story, if I don't know where the reader is going to leave the story. So once I know what the last thing the reader hears is, I can work my way backward, like following a roadmap in reverse."
- "A reader told me recently, in London, said that ‘well, I read that you write the last sentence first, so I always read your last sentence first.’ And I said, ‘oh, no, you're not supposed to do that.’"
- "Ted Seabrooke, my wrestling coach, had a kind of Nietzschean effect on me in terms of not just his estimation of my limited abilities, but his decidedly philosophical stance about how to conduct your life, what you should do to compensate for your limitations. This was essential to me, both as a student—and not a good one—and as a wrestler who was not a natural athlete but who had found something he loved."
- (In reference to Vermont's Act 60): "This is Marxism. It's leveling everything by decimating what works ... It's that vindictive 'We've suffered, and now we're going to take money from your kid and watch you squirm'... There's a minority which is an open target in this country which no one protects, and that's rich people" 
- "I write repeatedly—against my will—of those things I fear most happening. Losing a loved one, losing a parent, losing a child. I'm in terror of losing a child. It's never happened to me, but I am clearly compelled to write about it over and over again, and in a way I think, psychologically at least, this says more about me autobiographically as a novelist than the fact that Danny Angel goes to the Iowa Writers Workshop and has Kurt Vonnegut as a teacher, which I also did."
- Book Magazine, July/August 2001 ("John Irving Wrestles Fate" by Dorman T. Shindler)
- Pages Magazine, July/August 2005 ("The Creative Crucible" by Dorman T. Shindler)
- Portland Magazine, May 2012 ("Singular First Person," interview by Colin W. Sargent)
- Google Books
- Klaus Brinkbäumer (2010-05-21). "Zehn Wahrheiten von ... John Irving; "Ich bin gerannt und hab mir den Block gegriffen"". Spiegel Online.
- Mel Gussow (1998-04-28). "A Novelist Builds Out From Fact To Reach The Truth; John Irving Begins With His Memories". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-07.
- Nicholas Wroe (2005-08-13). "Grappling with life". The Observer (London). Retrieved 2009-11-05. "his parents had married six months before his birth"
- "National Book Awards – 1979". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-14.
- "National Book Awards – 1980". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-14.
(With essays by Deb Caletti and Craig Nova from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.
- Heinz-D. and Erika J. Fischer, The Pulitzer Prize Archive: Vol 21: Chronicles of the Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction, K G Saur Munchen 2007, page 346
- See e.g., Irving's NYT article A Soldier Once about Grass' autobiography Peeling the Onion, 8th July 2007.
- Boyd Tonkin (2009-10-23). "Cooking up a storm: John Irving's latest saga reveals the secrets of authors and chefs alike". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2009-11-05.
- While Excavating Past, John Irving Finds His Family
- Ariel Leve (2009-10-18). "The world according to John Irving". TimesOnline (London). Retrieved 2009-11-04.
- "National Wrestling Hall of Fame". Retrieved 2009-11-04.
- "John Irving's personal thoughts on Simon Birch". 1998-09-07. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
- "25th annual Lambda Literary Award winners announced". LGBT Weekly, June 4, 2013.
- "John Irving's Facebook Page". 2013-06-10. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
- John Irving visits Cap U as part of tour for new novel In One Person
- Kim Hubbard (2001-07-30). "Hands Full". People. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
- R.Z. Sheppard (1981-08-31). "Life into Art: Novelist John Irving". Time. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
- Benjamin Svetkey (1998-05-22). "Widow Maker". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
- Ariel Leve (2009-10-18). "The world according to John Irving". The Sunday Times (London). Retrieved 2009-11-04.
- Boyd Tonkin (2009-10-23). "Cooking up a storm: John Irving's latest saga reveals the secrets of authors and chefs alike". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2009-11-03.
- Boris Kachka (2009-10-11). "Call of the Wild". New York. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
- Meghan E. Irons (2010-02-17). "Ala. slay defendant is related to novelist John Irving". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2010-02-21.
- "A modern novelist of Dickensian tradition". Spotlight. Russia Today. 2009-01-24.
- "A modern novelist of Dickensian tradition". Spotlight. Russia Today. 2009-01-24.
- "John Irving Interviewed by Suzanne Herel." Mother Jones magazine, May/June 1997.
- "News". Salon. 1998-7-1.
- Michael Enright (2009-10-25). "The Best of The Sunday Edition". CBC.ca (Podcast). CBC. http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/sundayedition_20091026_22073.mp3. Retrieved 2009-11-05.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: John Irving|
- Official website
- Literary Encyclopedia
- John Irving at the Internet Movie Database
- Works by John Irving on Open Library at the Internet Archive
- Becoming John Irving
- The New York Times — Featured Author: John Irving
- John Irving interviewed by Jonathan Derbyshire on New Statesman about his book "Last Night in Twisted River"
- Ron Hansen (Summer-Fall 1986). "John Irving, The Art of Fiction No. 93". The Paris Review.