John Irving

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John Wallace Blunt, Jr.

Also Known As: "John Winslow Irving"
Immediate Family:

Son of John Wallace Blunt and Frances Blunt
Husband of <private> Turnbull
Ex-husband of <private> Leary
Father of <private> Irving; <private> Irving and <private> Irving

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

    • <private> Leary
    • <private> Irving
    • <private> Irving
    • <private> Turnbull
    • <private> Irving
    • mother

About John Irving

John Winslow Irving (born John Wallace Blunt, Jr.; March 2, 1942) is an American novelist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter.

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 where Irving grew up as the son of an Exeter faculty member, Colin F.N. Irving (1941), and nephew of another, H. Hamilton "Hammy" Bissell (1929). Both Irving and Bissell, and other members of the Exeter community, appear somewhat disguised in many of his novels.

Irving was in the Exeter wrestling program both as a student athlete and as an assistant coach, and wrestling features prominently in his books, stories and life.

He won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1999 for his script The Cider House Rules.


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 and The 158-Pound Marriage, were similarly received. At around this time, 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. 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 and Continental Drift by James Houston. 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, another New England family epic about religion set in a New England boarding school. The novel was influenced by The Tin Drum by Günter Grass,[5] 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[citation needed] 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 ten 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 has 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 has 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 most recent 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).

Other projects

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 The Fourth Hand.


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 has begun work on a new novel, which will be his thirteenth. It is based, in part, on a speech from a play by Shakespeare, "Richard II." The novel is titled, "In One Person." In Fall 2010, in "The Vermont Quarterly," "The Daily Free Press," "The Republican" and "The Harvard Crimson," transcripts of Irving's Q&As while making appearances at several New England colleges revealed the following: "In One Person" will have a first-person view point, 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" will feature a 60 year-old, bisexual protagonist named William, looking back on his life in the 1950s and '60s; William falls in love with a transgender, a female librarian, and spends time studying in Vienna, where he falls in love with an American girl trying to become a professional opera singer. The novel will share 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."

Simon and Schuster recently confirmed that they will publish Irving's next two novels, and that "In One Person" will be published by summer, 2012. In a recent press release, Irving's new publisher—taking over from Random House—stated that another book is tentatively scheduled for 2015. And in an interview found the Simon & Schuster website—where the first, approximately, 20 pages of "In One Person", as well as a short video of Irving doing a reading, can be found—when asked about his not-yet-written fourteenth novel, Irving states, "As for right now, I am thinking of four ideas, but I haven’t chosen one: a ghost story, a miracle story, a love story, an adoption story."

Recurring themes

Recurring themes, 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 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 Susan Oastler—recur thoroughout most of Irving's novels. Severing of body parts (tongue, finger, other) appears in several novels. Oddly, 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 twentieth-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.


Personal life

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 teenage son, Everett. Irving has homes in Vermont, Toronto, and Pointe au Baril.

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 was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007, and subsequently had a radical prostatectomy.

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 facing murder charges after allegedly shooting six colleagues, killing three, during a department meeting on February 12.


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John Irving's Timeline

March 2, 1942