John Winslow Irving (born March 2, 1942) is an American novelist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter (for The Cider House Rules, based on his novel of the same name).
Cider House Rules, based on his novel of the same name).
John Irving was born John Wallace Blunt, Jr in Exeter, New Hampshire, in unusual circumstances that have since fueled the plots and themes of several of his novels: his mother Helen, a descendant of the Winslows, one of New England's oldest and most distinguished families, divorced Irving's biological father when he was two years old. The family maintained a strict silence regarding his natural father. Helen Winslow later married Colin F.N. Irving, a teacher at the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy when Irving was six years old. John Wallace Blunt, Jr became John Winslow Irving, taking his adoptive father's name. Until the mid 2000s, he never sought the identity of his biological father- "I already have a father," he said. In 2001 he discovered he had a half brother from his biological father's second marriage.
Irving attended Exeter, where he was a mediocre student due to then-undiagnosed dyslexia, but was an outstanding wrestler. The trials of pre-sexual revolution single-motherhood, wrestling, and New England academic life feature prominently in Irving's novels, particularly The World According To Garp and A Prayer For Owen Meany. The primary settings for both novels are based on Phillips Exeter Academy.
Irving was sexually abused at age 11 by an older woman. This event inspired his 2005 novel Until I Find You.
While a student at Exeter, Irving was mentored by famed Presbyterian theologian and novelist Frederick Buechner and writing teacher George Bennett, who later helped Irving gain admission to the Iowa Writer's Workshop, America's most elite graduate writing program, then the only one of its kind. Irving briefly studied at the University of Pittsburgh and eventually graduated from the University of New Hampshire. At Iowa, Irving studied alongside future award-winning novelists Gail Godwin, John Casey, and Donald Hendrie, Jr., among others. He was mentored there by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
While on foreign study in Vienna, Austria, Irving met his first wife, Shyla Leary, an art student. They married after Shyla became unexpectedly pregnant, and eventually had two sons before divorcing in the mid-1980s. Irving subsequently wed his agent, Janet Turnbull, with whom he has a third son.
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 garner much of an audience. 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 garnering from his first publisher, Random House, Irving chose to offer his fourth novel, The World According to Garp (1978), to Dutton, which promised him a stronger marketing push. The novel went on to become a massive international bestseller and cultural phenomenon, and was a finalist for the American Book Award (now the National Book Award) for hardcover fiction in 1979 (the award went to Tim O'Brien for