Cider House Rules: Biography

John Winslow Irving is a best-selling American novelist whose works have been made into well-known films. He is the winner of an Academy Award for the screenplay version of A Cider House Rules.


Irving was born John Wallace Blunt, Jr. on March 2, 1942, in Exeter, New Hampshire. His father, then serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, was shot down over Burma, but survived—an incident retold in The Cider House Rules. When John was only two years old, his parents divorced and his mother remarried, giving John the new surname Irving. John grew up without knowing his biological father.


John Irving attended Philips Exeter Academy, where he took up the sport of wrestling, which figures in many of his novels. He went on to the University of Pittsburgh and then the University of Vienna, Austria, before graduating from the University of New Hampshire. He married in 1964 to Shyla Leary, and the couple went on to have two sons. In 1967, Irving earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. One of his instructors in this prestigious program was author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. 


After completing his graduate studies, Irving moved to Vermont to teach English at Windham College. His first novel, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968. Set in Vienna, Austria, it draws upon his experiences in Europe. He followed with novels The Water-Method Man and The 158-Pound Marriage. In 1978, his fourth novel, The World According to Garp, became an international best-seller and made Irving a household name. Garp was made into an Oscar-nominated movie starring Robin Williams. 


Irving followed the success of Garp with two more bestsellers, The Hotel New Hampshire (1981) and The Cider House Rules (1985). Both books were made into major Hollywood films. Irving won an Oscar in 2000 for his screen adaptation of Cider House Rules. His next novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, became one of Irving’s best known along with Garp. It, too, was made into a film, entitled Simon Birch. 


Irving’s other novels include A Son of the Circus (1995), A Widow for One Year (1998), The Fourth Hand (2001), and Until I Find You (2005). His most recent publication, Last Night in Twisted River (2009), features a novelist as its main character. Irving and his first wife divorced in the 1980s, and the author married Janet Turnbull, who now acts as one of his literary agents. They have one son, Everett. Today, Irving lives and writes at his homes in Vermont, Toronto, and Pointe au Baril, Ontario.