Why John Irving Can’t Leave America

Question: As a writer, what is your relation to America?

John Irving: Well, it's odd that I've written two novels out of twelve about Americans who leave this country and go and live in Canada and stay there, although the characters who do that are very different and their reasons for doing so are also different. The reasons are political in the case of Johnny Wheelwright, the narrator of A Prayer For Owen Meany, he does hate his country. That's not the case for Danny Baciagalupo and his dad, they're fugitives, they're running away, it's not their choice to go to Canada, although it does become Danny's choice to stay.

I couldn't do that. I couldn't do it primarily as a writer. I think if I'm going to continue to pick on my country in some way as a writer, I better live here. I better be here first hand, not as an expatriate. So I would disagree with the Ketchum character in Last Night In Twisted River when he tells Danny that he should leave this country and stay away. I would disagree with that, in my case.

In my case, too, unlike Danny, I have three children and four grandchildren, I'm not going anywhere. I live part time in Toronto because my wife is Canadian, but I'm an American and I always will be. I remember thinking in the last years of the Vietnam war that I would never see this country as divided again as it was in those years, but I was wrong. I think we as a people are more divided today. I think back in the latter years of the Vietnam war, it was chiefly that war that divided us. I don't think it's fair or enough to say that we are divided today because or, or only because of, the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq. I think there are other deep political and cultural rifts in this country. Conservative/liberal rifts, religious and not religious rifts. I think there are any number of differences among Americans that divide us angrily and sharply.

And, you know, boy, I really have the highest hopes for President Obama. I'm very excited about him, but he has inherited such a mess. Such a turmoil that I hope people will give him time to sort it out and to undo at least some of the damage that George W. Bush did to this country. And I think I'm already too old to realistically imagine that even if Mr. Obama is hugely successful, that he can actually undo all the damage George W. Bush did to this country's reputation, to the way we are seen outside of this country, to the way other people in the world see us. Maybe that can be recovered or that reputation that we once had can be regained, that good reputation. Maybe it will be regained in my childrens' lifetime, but I don't expect to see it happen. There is, of course, a lot of anti-Americanism around the world that is simply hostile and vehement and motivated by the desire to see any democratic way of life destroyed.

But there's another kind of anti-Americanism that we have contributed to and it embarrasses me. I'm sick of seeing this country's bully patriotism used as a smoke screen and as a cover up for things we haven't done right.

Recorded on: October 30, 2009

Between America’s bullying sense of patriotism and its increasingly divided populace, it’s difficult for a writer to call the land home. Yet, insists John Irving, if he’s going to "pick on" his native country, he needs to do it from the inside.

Compelling speakers do these 4 things every single time

The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rally at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 8, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)
Personal Growth

The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.

Keep reading Show less

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
Sponsored
  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Keep reading Show less

Preserving truth: How to confront and correct fake news

Journalism got a big wake up call in 2016. Can we be optimistic about the future of media?

Videos
  • "[T]o have a democracy that thrives and actually that manages to stay alive at all, you need regular citizens being able to get good, solid information," says Craig Newmark.
  • The only constructive way to deal with fake news? Support trustworthy media. In 2018, Newmark was announced as a major donor of two new media organizations, The City, which will report on New York City-area stories which may have otherwise gone unreported, and The Markup, which will report on technology.
  • Greater transparency of fact-checking within media organizations could help confront and correct fake news. Organizations already exist to make media more trustworthy — are we using them? There's The Trust Project, International Fact-Checkers Network, and Tech & Check.
Keep reading Show less