One night there was a big reading in Iowa City by John Irving, the author of The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp. The famous novelist’s real purpose in town was to watch an NCAA wrestling tournament. But Irving went to a student party, where the apprentice writers put out some chips and beer in a dirty apartment and, out of intimidation, were slow to approach him. Verghese introduced himself to the author, who, as it happened, was researching a novel called A Son of the Circus, a story about a doctor trying to find his way in India. Verghese had found a mentor, and a friendship took root.
Reid, Jan. “The Good Doctor.” Texas Monthly, Dec 2004.
Godwin arrives in Iowa City to study at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. There, taught by Kurt Vonnegut and José Donoso, building friendships with Jane Barnes, John Casey, David Plimpton, and John Irving, Gail Godwin finally achieves her dream—and a published novelist is born.
Godwin describes class with Vonnegut in her memoir Publishing: A Writers Memoir.:
“In [Vonnegut’s] workshop sessions, things always seemed a little looser, a little kinder, a little funnier. In May 1967 he would leave Iowa on a Guggenheim grant to do research in Dresden for Slaughterhouse-Five, his novel in progress, but all that spring I chugged along in creative bliss. A writer I had admired had given me the go-ahead. I wrote into the late night and early morning in my Iowa City rooms across the street from the jail…”
Godwin, Gail, and Rob Neufeld. The Making of a Writer. New York: Random House, 2011. Print.
Godwin, Gail. Publishing: A Writers Memoir. NY, NY: Bloomsbury, 2016. Print.
John Irving remembers his time in Iowa, in the collection Trying to Save Piggy Sneed:
Andre Dubus and James Crumley were also students at the Writers’ Workshop then. I remember a picnic at Vance Bourjaily’s farm, where a friendly pie-fight ensued; Dubus or Crumley, bare-chested and reasonably hairy, was struck in the chest by a Boston cream pie. Who threw the pie, and why, escapes my ever-failing memory–I swear I didn’t do it.
Irving, John. Trying to Save Piggy Sneed. Garp Enterprises Ltd. (1996).
In this video, Glenn Schaeffer reads an excerpt for the book “We Wanted to be Writers” in which John Irving discusses his writing method.
Olsen, Eric, and Glenn Schaeffer. We Wanted to Be Writers: Lfe, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Skyhorse Publishing, A Herman Graf Book, 2011.
In this video, Glenn Schaeffer reads an excerpt for the book “We Wanted to be Writers” in which John Irving discusses his time in Iowa City.
In the John Irving novel Water Method Man, the main character, a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature at The University of Iowa, lives at 918 Iowa Avenue and sells football pennants. The wounded hero, carrying a dead duck, looks “across the river, on the bank that looks like an Army barracks — stacked with the war-built Quonset huts, now called Married Student Housing.”
Irving, John. The Water-method Man. New York: Random House, 1972. Print.
In John Irving’s The World According to Garp, T.S. Garp writes about a visiting professor looking out of his office window in the English-Philosophy Building (EPB). Garp’s father-in-law “had been a two-time Big Ten wrestling champion at the University of Iowa.”
Irving, John. The World According to Garp: A Novel. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1978. Print.
In the John Irving novel ‘Water Method Man’, the main character, a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature at The University of Iowa, lives at 918 Iowa Avenue and sells football pennants. The wounded hero, carrying a dead duck, looks ‘across the river, on the bank that looks like an Army barracks — stacked with the war-built Quonset huts, now called Married Student Housing.’
Irving, John. The Water-Method Man. Ballantine Books, 1990.
In John Irving’s ‘The World According to Garp’, T.S. Garp writes about a visiting professor looking out of his office window in what might be the English-Philosophy Building in a university town. Garp’s father-in-law ‘had been a two-time Big Ten wrestling champion at the University of Iowa.’
Irving, John. The World According to Garp. Pocket Books, 1979.
John Irving’s plaque on the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk reads: “To each other, we were as normal and nice as the smell of bread. We were just a family. In a family even exaggerations make perfect sense.”
Irving, John. The Hotel New Hampshire. New York: Dutton, 1981. Print.
The event was originally scheduled to take place in the Van Allen Lecture Hall on the UI campus, but due to the overflow crowd and potential fire hazard, the event was moved to another venue a minute before the 8:15 pm start time. The announcement prompted Irving aficionados to take to the streets of Iowa City and head toward the Pappajohn Business Building with the hope of commandeering a seat for the legendary alumni writer. The mass exodus of people momentarily shut down traffic on Dubuque Street as the literary mob, undeterred by the threat of jaywalking charges, blindly marched across one of the main downtown arteries.
Lindsey, T.M. “John Irving Immortalizes Iowa City in Upcoming Model.” Iowa Independent , 13 Mar. 2013, iowaindependent.com/2088/john-irving-immortalizes-iowa-city-in-upcoming-novel.
Kurt Vonnegut’s workshop was very popular and well attended. From it, many notable authors emerged such as John Irving (‘The World According to Garp’), Gail Godwin (‘The Old Woman’), John Casey (‘An American Romance’), Nick Meyer (‘The Seven Percent Solution’).
Seems Like Old Times. Iowa Writers’ Workshop Golden Jubilee, editor Ed Dinger, U of Iowa Press: Iowa City, 1986.
Born in Exeter, New Hampshire, John Irving majored in English at the Philips Exeter Academy in his native town, then attended the University of Vienna in Austria and graduated from the University of New Hampshire (1965). He enrolled at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop (1965-1967) where he received instruction from Kurt Vonnegut. At Iowa, he developed a Master of Fine Arts thesis that became his first published novel, ‘Setting Free the Bears’ (1968). Irving later taught at the Writers’ Workshop from 1972 to 1975.