Born into a happy New England family, John Winslow Irving enjoyed the benefits of his father’s position as teacher of Russian history and treasurer of Phillips Exeter Academy. He attended that prestigious school himself, which under various disguises serves as a setting for many of his novels, including The World According to Garp (1978) and A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989). After several false starts in college, including a year at the University of Vienna, he received his B.A. in 1965 from the University of New Hampshire. Following graduate work in the writing program at the University of Iowa, he became an assistant professor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.
His first novel, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1969 and received more critical attention than most first novels. It is a picaresque novel and a Bildungsroman. Irving made use of his Austrian experiences in this novel, and he introduced many of the themes and motifs that were to reappear in his canon, such as caged bears, motorcycles, and bizarre deaths. He continued to write, relying on academic salaries from small New England colleges, writer residencies, and grants from large institutions. Although his next novels, The Water-Method Man (1972) and The 158-Pound Marriage (1974), sold only about six thousand copies each, he had gained a reputation as an academic writer and was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1972...
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