John Irving was born in 1942 and grew up in Exeter, New Hampshire, where his father and uncle were members of the Phillips Exeter Academy faculty. While a student at Exeter, Irving participated in the wrestling program and later coached at the school, and the sport, as well as prep school life, has figured prominently in his fiction.

Irving, who studied with Kurt Vonnegut at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, published his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, in 1968 at age 26. He published two more novels before 1978's The World According to Garp, which was an international best seller and American Book Award nominee. The book was subsequently made into an Academy Award-nominated film. Following the success of Garp,
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