Shoeless Joe author W.P. Kinsella has died
John Mackie and Tracy Sherlock
Writer W.P. Kinsella did things his way. In failing health, he chose to end his life early Friday afternoon.
“W.P. (Bill) Kinsella invoked the assisted dying provisions of Bill C-14, at Hope, B.C., and passed away at 12:05 p.m. … Friday, Sept. 16, 2016,” said a statement from his agent, Carolyn Swayze.
The statement provided no detail of how he died, but a post on his Facebook page said he died “surrounded by loved ones.”
Kinsella suffered a head injury when he was hit by a car in 1997, and didn’t release a new novel until 2011. His biographer Willie Steele said Kinsella had also been diagnosed with diabetes in the 1980s, and his health had deteriorated to the point where he’d spent the past couple of weeks in the Hope hospital.
“The last time I saw him was last May at his 80th birthday,” said Steele.
“He was complaining about feeling fatigued, not feeling right. We stayed in touch … he had been complaining about the diabetes and the blood sugar, everything, and that he was going to have to start dialysis. He was going to have a procedure done related to that, and had some complications.”
Kinsella was 81. He was the author of 27 novels, short story collections and books of poetry, including “Shoeless Joe,” a “magic realist” tale of an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield where disgraced baseball great Shoeless Joe Jackson appears to play.
Released in 1982, it was made into the hit movie “Field of Dreams” in 1989.
William Patrick Kinsella was born in Edmonton on May 25, 1935. He moved to B.C. in 1967, and earned a B.A. from the University of Victoria.
After getting his master’s at the University of Iowa, he returned to Alberta to teach at the University of Calgary from 1978 to 1983. He moved back to B.C. in the mid-80s, living in White Rock, Chilliwack and finally Yale.
He released his first book of short stories, “Dance Me Outside”, in 1977. The stories were set in an Alberta First Nations reserve and narrated by a character named Silas Ermineskin.
The imagination and wit of his stories set in the reserve made them popular, and he won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour in 1987. But there were detractors who chafed at him writing funny stories about reserve life.
His bigger fame came from his books about baseball, which led to him receiving the Jack Graney award in 2011 from the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game in Canada.
“He told me in Canada he’ll be known for being a storyteller, in the United States he’ll be known for being a baseball writer,” said Steele, who is an American.
“In Canada, he’ll be known as a humorist, is what it was. His Indian stories, the Silas Ermineskin stories are wildly popular up there, but he’s more known for baseball here.
“The thing I think he’ll be remembered for is it’s just such a relaxed style. You feel as if he’s sitting there telling you the story; I think that’s a really hard thing for a writer to do.”
Shoeless Joe started off as a short story, “Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa.”
“It was a short story and it was published in an anthology,” Kinsella told Kevin Gillies of The Vancouver Sun in 2014.
“The anthology was reviewed in Publishers Weekly and an editor in Boston saw the review. (He) wrote to me and said if it was a novel he wanted to see it, and if it wasn’t it should be.”
Kinsella had a wry take on fame, and the way novels were turned into films.
“Bill was notorious for saying you make your money off the movie rights,” said Steele. “He was actually happy for awhile if the movie never got made, because every time the rights expire, he had to get another contract for the movie rights.”
Kinsella quit writing for five years after his 1997 accident.
“After the accident he just lost the creative impulse,” said Steele. “The things that were published after the accident were (largely) things that had already been completed.”
The prime example was “Butterfly Winter,” a novel he published in 2011. Kinsella told Tracy Sherlock of the Sun he’d worked on the book for 27 years before it was finally published.
His final work of fiction, “Russian Dolls,” is due to be published next year.
Kinsella was awarded the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia and in 2009 received the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award.
He was married four times. His last wife, Barbara, passed away on Christmas Eve, 2012.
“He emotionally was kind of down after that,” said Steele.
His daughter Erin moved in with Kinsella after his wife’s death to take care of him. He leaves another daughter, Shannon, and stepchildren Scarlet and Aaron Gaffney, and Lyn Calendar.
At his request there will be no memorial service.