John Winslow Irving is an American-Canadian novelist and screenwriter. Irving achieved critical and popular acclaim after the international success of The World According to Grap in 1978. Many of Irving's novels, including The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and A Widow for One Year, have been bestsellers. He won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in the 72nd Academy Awards (1999) for his script of The Cider House Rules.
Five of his novels have been adapted into films (Garp, Hotel, Meany, Cider, Widow). Several of Irving's books (Garp, Meany, Widow) and short stories have been set in and around Phillips Exeter Academy in the town of Exeter, New Hampshire.
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. (The incident was incorporated into his novel The Cider House Rules.) Irving did not find out about his father's heroism until 1981, when he was almost 40 years old.
Irving's career began at the age of 26 with the publication of his first novel, Setting Free the Bears (1968). 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 (1972) and the 158-Pound Marriage (1974), were similarly received. In 1975, Irving accepted a position as assistant professor of English at Mount Holyoke College.
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' Oliver Twist (1838). Irving's next novel was A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989), another New England family epic about religion set in a New England boarding school and in Toronto, Ontario.
The novel was influenced by The Tin Drum (1959) by Günter Grass, and the plot contains further allusions to The Scarlet Letter (1850) 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 bestselling book since Garp.