Perhaps the only thing more marvellous than a John Irving book is John Irving himself. In conversation with fellow novelist and professor of English (University of Toronto) Randy Boyagoda, Irving discusses faith, humour, anger, and why Moby Dick’s Starbuck “is kind of a pill.” Thank you for joining us for this special Wordfest event in partnership with PEN Canada. If you’d like to help PEN continue their work defending writers and freedom of expression, please consider making a donation or becoming a member here. And if this was your first time watching a Wordfest event we hope you’ll become a Wordfester by signing up for our free e-blast, an exclusive weekly round-up of our upcoming programming and events.




Long smitten with Canada (and with his Canadian wife), the Exeter, New Hampshire, native became a Canadian citizen in 2019. While he is highly critical of American politics, including of his fellow Democrats, he calls the move “a love story, not a political story.” Margaret Atwood sent Irving a pair of Handmaid’s Tale socks to congratulate her old friend on his new chapter; order yours here.


Irving’s seventh novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, is about a boy who believes himself to be an instrument of God. Irving tell Boyagoda that, in writing it, he imagined the kind of friend he’d need to believe in miracles himself. “What would have to happen to me in my life… to make me believe?” He’s still waiting to meet an Owen Meany; meanwhile, his book serves as proof of miracles to some of his legion fans.


Herman Melville’s 1851 classic novel, Moby Dick, taught Irving how to end a novel. As the author explains, that’s where he learned “to build toward something that was there all along.” Famously, Irving writes the endings of his novels before he writes the first sentence. (Incidentally, more than 30 years after it was published, the conclusion of Owen Meany still keeps some of us up at night.) Here are six of the author’s all-time favourite books, including the one about the whale that he calls “the greatest of novels.”


Irving was amused to read about Gregorian Chant Summer Camp, which figures in Boyagoda’s novel, Original Prin - and astonished to learn that it is, indeed, a thing.

Gregorian Chant Summer Camp for Children


While we all wait impatiently for Irving’s new novel Darkness as a Bride to hit shelves (expected this summer), we can re-read and/or re-watch the still deeply relevant The World According to Garp. Tragically, the sexual hatred and discrimination captured in Irving’s now 40-year-old novel are still with us. More lightheartedly, so are the false starts and writer’s blocks depicted in the book that continue to define a writerly brilliant process at work. Patience, grasshoppers.

The World According to Garp - Original Theatrical Trailer

More Fabulous Conversations are Waiting for You at Imagine On Air

This broadcast joins more than 125 original shows featuring your favourite authors on the world’s first literary streaming channel, Imagine On Air. For just $5.99 a month, you can watch these shows at any time, on any device. Check out this free 7-day trial offer!

MASTER Smiling Grid Extra Wide
Copyright © 2021 Wordfest, All rights reserved.

Wordfest 1221 2 Street SW 2nd Floor, Memorial Park Library Calgary, AB T2R 0W5 Canada

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.