Typewriter of the moment: Where John Irving birthed Garp

September 19, 2019

IBM Selectric typewriter upon which John Irving wrote The World According to Garp. Photo courtesy of David Armstrong.

Photo from typewriter repairman and aficionado David Armstrong, from a Facebook group dedicated to IBM typewriters.

Armstrong said his client tells the provenance: The typewriter upon which John Irving wrote The World According to Garp. “It was completely worn out but after a complete rebuild my customer couldn’t be happier.”

This year marks 40 years since Garp was published — difficult to believe the time gone by. This may be the last novel I devoured in a day or so.

Irving marks the 40th anniversary at his website, with some somber notes.

This year I’m celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of my novel, The World According to Garp. I remember thinking the title of my fourth novel would change; The World According to Garp was always just a working title until something better came along. I was still looking for “something better” when I delivered the manuscript to Henry Robbins, my editor. Henry, and everyone else at Dutton who read Garp in manuscript form, declared that the title had to be The World According to Garp. I was stuck with it.


More importantly, it is a bittersweet feeling to have only recently written a teleplay of Garp, a miniseries in five episodes, because I always imagined — more than forty years ago — that the sexual hatred in the novel might become dated soon after it was published. Sadly, sexual hatred is still with us — it hasn’t gone away. The suspicion of sexual differences, the discrimination against sexual minorities — including flat-out bigotry and violence — haven’t become the extinct dinosaurs I thought these things would (and should) become.


In part, The World According to Garp depicts the struggles of the writing process — the false starts, the blocks, the disappointments. Yet Garp never loses conviction in his purpose as a writer, “because he knew what every artist should know: as Garp put it, ‘You only grow by coming to the end of something and by beginning something else.’ Even if these so-called endings and beginnings are illusions.”

There are days I sorely miss my old Selectric.


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