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If you like John Irving's story, you might also like:
John Grisham,
Khaled Hosseini,
Norman Mailer,
James A. Michener,
Joyce Carol Oates,
Carol Shields,
John Updike
and Tom Wolfe

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John Irving's recommended reading: Moby Dick

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John Irving
John Irving
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John Irving Interview

National Book Award

June 3, 2005
New York City

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  John Irving

What was your childhood like, growing up in Exeter, New Hampshire?

John Irving: It was reasonably secluded, largely happy, but there was a mystery in it that I think provoked my imagination.

No adult in my family would ever tell me anything about who my father was. I knew from an older cousin -- only four years older than I am -- everything, or what little I could discover about him. I mistakenly thought that he and my mother were married and divorced before I was born. As it turned out, I was born in 1942, and my parents didn't divorce until 1944, when I was two. But I was born with that father's name, John Wallace Blunt, Jr., and it probably was a gift to my imagination that my mother wouldn't talk about him, because when information of that kind is denied to you as a child, you begin to invent who your father might have been, and this becomes a secret, a private obsession, which I would say is an apt description of writing novels and screenplays, of making things up in lieu of knowing the real answer.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

I was 39 and divorcing my first wife when my mother deposited on my dining room table some letters from my father which were written from an air base in India and from hospitals in India and China in 1943. He was a flyer, he flew the Himalayan route, as it was called. He and his crew were shot down over Japanese-occupied Burma and hiked for 15 days, some 225 miles into China. The letters were all patiently, painstakingly explaining to her why he didn't want to remain married to her, but that he hoped to have some contact with me. My mom never permitted him that contact.

In 1948, when I was six, she remarried, and my step-father, Colin Irving, legally adopted me, so that my name was changed from John Wallace Blunt, Jr., to John Winslow Irving, Winslow being my mom's maiden name. And the mystery continued.

I think it probably is the most central or informative part of my childhood, is what I didn't know about it. And as friends and critics have been saying of my novels for some time, I've been inventing that missing parent, that absent father, in one novel after another. It was both a surprise, but an easing of a burden when, in the middle of the novel I just finished -- which I began in 1998 and finished only this spring, in 2002, in December of 2002 -- in the middle of that book, which was, once again, a "missing father" novel, I was contacted by a 39-year-old man named Chris Blunt, who said, 'There's a possible chance that I might be your brother." And of course, I knew it was not a possible chance at all, but a likelihood. And I since have met two brothers and a sister I didn't know about, and I found out more about this man who died five years before Chris found me. And the coincidences of the father I was imagining -- who was waiting for me to finish my story in the last two chapters of this novel -- the actual father turned out to have some similarities to the man I had already imagined.

John Irving Interview Photo
Not as surprising as you might think, given the fact that when you're a kid and you don't know about someone, it's natural to demonize him. In other words, if no one would talk about this guy, how bad a guy was he? There must have been something wrong with him. or people would have talked to me. At least that's always the way my imagination runs. Imagine the worst, right? Imagine the worst.

Well, it was nice to hear from these two brothers and my one sister that they loved him, that they thought he was a good father, although he was married four times and had children with three of those wives, not the fourth. It was astonishing for the first time to see, in my late 50's, early 60's, which I was at the time, photographs of my father when he's younger than my grown children are today. I have a 40-year-old son and a 36-year-old son, and I'm looking at pictures of Lieutenant John Wallace Blunt when he's 24, with his flight crew in China. And he doesn't look like me, to my eyes, although he does. What he really looks like is one of my kids. He so much more closely resembles them than he does me.

Aside from stimulating your imagination, did this impact your childhood in other ways? Were you a good kid?

John Irving: I was a moody kid. I was an aloof kid, I kind of kept to myself. I think that an early sort of pre-writing indication that I had the calling to be a writer was how much time I liked to spend alone. I wasn't anti-social. I had friends, but I didn't really want to hang out with them after school. What I saw of them at school was enough. I needed to be in a room by myself even before I was writing, just imagining things, just thinking about things. If there was a weekend with too many cousins or other people around, I got a little edgy. I think the need to be by myself, which I've recognized in a couple of my own children, is one that was respected by my grandmother, with whom I lived until my mom remarried, as I told you, when I was six. And I was fortunate to be in a big house, my grandmother's house, and there were lots of places to get off by yourself and imagine those things that I didn't know. And I find -- I'm 63, and my capacity to be by myself and just spend time by myself hasn't diminished any. That's the necessary part of being a writer, you better like being alone.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

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