John Irving
Birth Date:
May 7, 1940
Birth Place:
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, UK
Famous for:
Director of 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' (1979)
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The Cider House Rules


“I spend about two to three months planning the path of the book in my head before I write the last sentence of the novel. From there I work back to the beginning. From the day I think of the last sentence to the book's publication date, not more than a semicolon has changed.” John Irving

Best-selling American novelist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Irving received a huge breakthrough and subsequently made a transformation from an unknown, academic literary writer to a household name with his fourth novel, “The World According to Garp” (1978), which was a bestselling book worldwide and won a 1980 National Book Foundation Award. A creative author who is known for combining elements of tragedy and antic comedy in his books, Irving has since enjoyed hits with the novels like “The Hotel New Hampshire” (1981), “The Cider House Rules” (1985), “A Prayer for Owen Meany” (1989), “A Widow for One Year” (1998) and more recently, “Until I Find You” (2005). He also has published two non-fiction books, “My Movie Business” (2000) and “The Imaginary Girlfriend” (2002), and a collection of his writings, “Trying to Save Piggy Sneed” (1993).

Many of Irving's novels have been adapted into motion pictures, most notably the Lasse Hallström-directed “The Cider House Rules” (1999), which Irving also wrote the script. For his brilliant work, he was handed a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, a National Board of Review Award and a Golden Satellite Award. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe, an USC Scripter and a Writers Guild of America Award.

Aside from writing, Irving is a lifelong wrestling fan. He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992 and has been a wrestling coach for years. He also taught at such universities as Mount Holyoke and his alma mater, the University of Iowa. As for his private life, Irving and first wife Shyla Leary (together from 1964 to 1982) have two sons together, Colin and Brendan. From his present marriage with Janet Turnbull, he has a young son named Everett.


Childhood and Family:

John Wallace Blunt Jr. was born on March 2, 1942, in Exeter, New Hampshire. His mother, Frances Irving, and father, an Army Air Force pilot, separated before he was born. When John was six, his mom remarried and shortly thereafter he was adopted by his stepfather, Colin F.N. Irving, who taught history at the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy. John never knew his biological father.

John was educated at the Institute of European Studies in Vienna, Austria, from 1983 to 1964. He obtained his MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa in Iowa City in 1967. Growing up as a faculty brat, John became a bookworm despite his dyslexia and built a life-long love for wrestling. He was in the Exeter wrestling program under Coach Ted Seabrooke and wrestled for the University of Pittsburgh. On his wrestling coach, John said, “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 1964, at age 22, John married Shyla Leary, with whom he has two children, Colin and Brendan. They divorced in 1982 after having been married for 18 years. John married his current wife, Janet Turnbull, in 1987. Together, they have a son named Everett.

The World According to Garp


John Irving began working as an English instructor at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in 1967. It was during the following year that he made his debut as a professional writer when Random House published his first novel, “Setting Free the Bears” (1968). The book was moderately well-received, but a failure in terms of gaining much of an audience. His second and third novels, “The Water-Method Man” (1972) and “The 158-Pound Marriage” (1974), were likewise received. In 1975, Irving returned to Mount Holyoke as an assistant of professor of English.

Disappointed with the lack of promotion his novels received from his publisher, Irving decided to offer his fourth novel, “The World According to Garp” (1978), to Dutton. It paid off when the book became a cultural phenomenon and a massive international bestseller and was nominated for the American Book Award (now the National Book Award) the following year for hardcover fiction. The award finally went to Tim O'Brien for “Going After Cacciato” but in 1980, “The World According to Garp” won the National Book Foundation's award for paperback fiction. The success of his book attracted the attention of filmmakers who in 1982, transformed it into a film helmed by George Roy Hill and starring Robin Williams in the title role and Glenn Close as his mother, Jenny. The film gained a number of honors, including two Oscar nominations for Close and John Lithgow. Irving himself made a short cameo as a referee in one of Garp's high school wrestling matches.

Irving next published “The Hotel New Hampshire” (1981). The book was soon made into a film with Tony Richardson directing and starring Rob Lowe, Jodie Foster and Beau Bridges. Four years later, in 1985, Irving released “The Cider House Rules,” a struggling epic focusing on a Maine orphanage with abortion as its central topic. It was around this time that Irving began attempts to transform “The Cider House Rules” into a film. The popular novelist closed out the decade by publishing “A Prayer for Owen Meany” (1989), which went on to become his bestselling novel since “The World According to Garp.”

1993 saw Irving release “Trying to Save Piggy Sneed.” “A Son of the Circus” was his comeback in 1994, which also marked his reunion with his first publisher, Random House. “A Son of the Circus” turned out to be a bestseller nationally thanks to Irving's reputation for fashioning literate, fascinating page-turners. His next book, “A Widow for One Year” (1998), was named a New York Times Notable Book.

Still in 1998, Irving's “A Prayer for Owen Meany” was adapted into a film called “Simon Birch,” directed and written by Mark Steven Johnson. Not happy with the changes made to his original story, he requested and was credited as “suggested by 'A Prayer for Owen Meany.’” It was during the next year that Irving's screenplay for “The Cider House Rules” was created into a motion picture with Lasse Hallström sitting in the director's chair. The movie starred Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo and Michael Caine. The acclaimed movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two in the categories of Best Adapted Screenplay for Irving and Best Supporting Actor for Caine. Irving also took home a Golden Satellite and a National Board of Review award.

Entering the new millennium, Irving published a non-fiction book titled “My Movie Business” in 2000, a report on the drawn-out process of bringing “The Cider House Rules” to the wide screen. He published the novel “The Fourth Hand” in 2001 and followed it up with “The Imaginary Girlfriend” (2002), a brief memoir centering on wrestling and writing. In 2004, a part of “A Widow for One Year” was adapted into the film “The Door in the Floor,” directed by Tod Williams and starring Jeff Bridges as the popular children's book author Ted Cole and Kim Basinger as his beautiful wife Marion.

His latest novel, “Until I Find You,” was launched on July 12, 2005.


  • Academy Award: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, “The Cider House Rules,” 2000

  • Golden Satellite: Best Screenplay, Adapted, “The Cider House Rules,” 2000

  • National Board of Review: Best Screenplay, “The Cider House Rules,” 1999

  • National Book Foundation: “The World According to Garp,” 1980

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