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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

John Irving can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center


John Irving's recommended reading: Moby Dick

Related Links:
Random House Authors: John Irving

Mother Jones: Interview with John Irving

Salon.com: Interview with John Irving

Wilkipedia: John Irving

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  John Irving

Were you a good student?

John Irving: No, I wasn't.


At the time, they didn't have the language for it that we have perhaps an over-abundance of today. Dyslexia, learning disabilities, whatever they are. I had something of that nature and never knew I had it until one of my children was diagnosed as being slightly dyslexic, and when they showed me the results of how they determined that he had a learning disability, I realized that they were describing exactly what I had always done. What it amounted to, in essence, was that I would ask my friends, "How long did the history assignment take you? How long did the English assignment take you?" And if they said, "Oh, it's 45 minutes," I would just double the time, or triple the time, and I'd say, "Well, it's an hour and a half for me." I just knew that everything was going to take me longer. Right?

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance


I don't think that's a bad disability to have if you're going to write long novels.


There's no reason you should write any novel quickly. There's no reason you shouldn't, as a writer, not be aware of the necessity to revise yourself constantly. More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn't say I have a talent that's special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina. I can rewrite sentences over and over again, and I do. And the reshaping of something -- the restructuring of a story, the building of the architecture of a novel -- the craft of it is something I never tire of. And maybe that comes from what homework always was to me, which was redoing, redoing, redoing. Because I always made mistakes, and I always assumed I would. And that meant that my grades weren't very good, and that meant that school was hard for me. But when I got out of school and my focus could go to the one thing I wanted to do, the novel, the screenplay of the moment, I knew how to work. I knew how to concentrate, because I had to.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


Were there books that were important to you?

John Irving: Very. Yeah.


John Irving: I read Charles Dickens when I was 14 or 15. It might be hard for many 14, 15-year-olds today to read Dickens. That language seems so old fashioned, if not exactly dated, to us now -- the amount of detail, the sheer complexities of those stories and plots. But those were the novels I read that made me want to write novels. If I had read, frankly, some more modern or post-modern novels at the time, I might have wanted to do something else. I've always been a fan of the 19th century novel, of the novel that is plotted, character-driven, and where the passage of time is almost as central to the novel as a major minor character, the passage of time and its effect on the characters in the story. Those old 19th century novels, all of them long, all of them complicated, all of them plotted. Not just Dickens, but especially Dickens, but also George Eliot, Thomas Hardy. And among the Americans, Melville and Hawthorne always meant more to me than Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald. I'm not a modern guy.


When did you know that you wanted to be a writer, a novelist?

John Irving: Well, before I went to college anyway.


When I was still in prep school --14, 15 -- I started keeping notebooks, journals. I started writing, almost like landscape drawing or life drawing. I never kept a diary, I never wrote about my day and what happened to me, but I described things. If I had known how to draw, maybe I would have drawn hundreds of pictures of my grandmother's garden, but instead I wrote sort of landscape descriptions of it. I think that was what was so compelling to me about those Dickens and Hardy novels. Just the lushness of detail, the amount of description, the amount of atmosphere that is plumped into those novels. It's like nothing you read today, except from those writers who are essentially 19th century story tellers themselves: the Canadian, Robertson Davies; the German, Günter Grass; Garcia Marquez; Salman Rushdie. Basically old fashioned 19th century plot-driven story tellers. Among my contemporaries, I still like the old fashioned ones. Some exceptions, to be sure. I mean Graham Greene is such a good story teller that I forgive him for being as modern as he is. But I was never a Hemingway person. I never understood that. Moby Dick, there was a story. The longer, the better. I remember kids who were reading Moby Dick in a class and would be just complaining about, "Do we have to know everything about the whaling industry? Do we have to read about the blubber and all the rest of it?" I couldn't get enough of it, you know. I couldn't get enough of it.

[ Key to Success ] Passion


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This page last revised on Oct 09, 2006 16:30 EDT