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W.P. Kinsella

William Patrick Kinsella (1935) is a Canadian fiction writer who was born in Edmonton, Alberta. Kinsella spent two years in Iowa city while studying creative writing at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop between 1976 and 1978; he received his MFA degree in 1978. He is the author of Shoeless Joe, which was made into the feature film Field of Dreams.

Kinsella’s Love for Iowa

“I came to Iowa for the first time in August 1976 to study at the Writers' Workshop in Iowa City. Even though the setting was different from the prairies of Alberta and the ocean of Vancouver Island where I had spent my life, I quickly fell in love with the state—with the rolling fields of corn, the dense humidity, the tall bamboo canes thick as hoe handles. I had never seen the dazzle of fireflies before. I also loved the intimacy of the Iowa River where it snaked, green and lazy, across the University of Iowa campus. There is a spot on campus, along the riverbanks just outside the English-Philosophy Building, where I have decided I want my ashes spread.

I loved the town, the Prairie Lights bookstore, the small restaurants, and the magnificent old homes, one of which Flannery O'Connor lived in when she was a student at the workshop. I enjoyed driving through the nearby cornfields, the air heavy and fragrant with growth.

I did not want my two years of graduate studies to end. I decided to try to show, in my fiction, how I had come to love Iowa. I began thinking about some stories my dad had told me about Shoeless Joe Jackson and what had happened to him after he was wrongly banned from baseball; they were good stories but not necessarily true. Then I thought, what would happen if...? Which is what storytellers like me spend their lives asking. I wondered, what would happen if Shoeless Joe Jackson came back in this time and place, which was Iowa City in the spring of 1978?

That was the genesis of my 1982 novel Shoeless Joe. It started as a short story, which I read aloud at the Iowa City Creative Reading Series the week before I left the city. The story was published in an anthology and spotted by a young editor at Houghton Mifflin named Larry Kessenich. With Larry's help I began turning the story into a novel.

I knew I wanted to write something about the reclusive author J. D. Salinger, who made himself conspicuous by hiding; I wanted to write about a man named Moonlight Graham, who spent one instant in 1905 as an outfielder for the New York Giants and never came to bat; and I wanted to write about an old man who stopped me on Dubuque Street in Iowa City, asked the time, then said, "Did you know I'm 87 years old and I used to play for the Chicago Cubs?" I got his name and arranged to interview him, but he turned out to be a sports impostor, one of many I've encountered over the years. When you're 87 years old, you can claim to have played any professional sport you can still remember.

I swirled all those ingredients together in an exotic cocktail of fact, fiction, and fantasy, and the result was Shoeless Joe. The novel became the basis of the movie Field of Dreams. It also conveyed my love for the Iowa landscape. As one of the characters in Shoeless Joe says, "Once you fall in love with the land, the wind never blows so cold again."

I was very happy that screenwriter and director Phil Alden Robinson and his crew decided to film Field of Dreams in Iowa. They scouted locations from Georgia to southern Ontario but finally settled on one near the town of Dyersville, near Dubuque. The location turned out to be excellent, and I loved the finished movie. Most writers are unhappy with film adaptations of their work, and rightly so. Field of Dreams, however, caught the spirit and essence of Shoeless Joe while making the necessary changes to make the work more visual. Though I had no direct input on the movie, Phil kept in touch with me, explaining that there was no way to get a 300-page novel into an hour-and-46-minute movie.

The filming site near Dyersville has since become a major tourist attraction, with thousands of baseball and movie fans coming from as far away as Japan to run the bases and field a few grounders on the sacred ground. I've gone there several times on my visits to Iowa -- I've returned as a distinguished alumni lecturer at the University of Iowa and taught several summers at the Iowa Summer School of the Arts, all because the state holds a special place in my heart since I first arrived there in 1976.”[fn]http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/magazine/features/si50/states/iowa/essa...
 

Kinsella Plaque on the Iowa Literary Walk

Kinsella plaque on the Iowa Literary Walk reads: “Three years ago at dusk on a spring evening, when the sky was a robin's-egg blue and the wind as soft as a day-old chick, I was sitting on the veranda of my farm home in eastern Iowa when a voice very clearly said to me, ‘If you build it, he will come.’” This captures the magic essence of his major novel Shoeless Joe.
 

Kinsella’s Personal Story

The future writer was home-schooled by his mother in his remote homestead near Darwell. Without having any siblings or other children around he used his imagination to entertain himself. "At the age of five I felt like one of the people who could wake up knowing how to read and write," he said. This led Kinsella to begin writing at an early age and develop a special interest in baseball. From 1954 to 1976 Kinsella changed many jobs and married Mildred Irene Clay and had three children. They divorced in 1978.2 While taking writing classes at the Workshop, Kinsella met Ann Ilene Knight who became his second wife in 1978; both went on together to write Rainbow Warehouse, a book that consists of a series of poems relating to their feelings about one another and their imaginations. In 1997, Kinsella and Ann Ilene Knight divorced and later he married Barbra L. Turner, with whom he currently lives in a secluded area of British Columbia.3

On October 11, 1997, Kinsella was struck while walking on a south Surrey sidewalk when a vehicle driven by Rupert Sasseville backed out of a driveway. He claimed injuries suffered have made it impossible to write, giving rise to a lawsuit. Shortly thereafter, Kinsella was stung in public by a vengeful portrait in Vancouver magazine by his ex-lover Evelyn Lau, with whom he had a relationship from 1995 to 1997. Kinsella sued for the detailed portrait that exposed him to ridicule; and the case was settled out of court. Vancouver magazine published an apology. He collaborated with a Japanese journalist to produce a book in Japanese about the right fielder of the Seattle Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki, the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year, but Kinsella provided his content via interviews, not by writing. As a big fan of traditional country 'n' western singers such as Tom T. Hall, Merle Haggard and George Strait, Kinsella would like to one day have some song lyrics recorded. Throughout Kinsella's work, there has been a consistent sympathy for the underdog. In The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt, for instance, an un-athletic boy wins the approval of a star school athlete when he draws a comic strip based on the star's exploits. "My life is not interesting," he told Maclean's in 1993, "What you can invent is much better than anything that's actually happened to you."

W.P. Kinsella received the Order of British Columbia in 2005.
 

Kinsella’s Major Works

Since 1983, Kinsella has been a full-time writer and has carved a niche for himself as a writer of baseball fiction. In addition to Shoeless Joe, he has written several more novels, including The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (1986), Box Socials (1991), and The Winter Helen Dropped By (1995). Story collections focusing on baseball include Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa (1980), the title story of which formed the basis of the novel Shoeless Joe, and The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt (1988), which was reissued as Go the Distance (1995). Kinsella's most recent publications are Magic Time (1998), a novel about a college all-star who revives his baseball career by moving to Iowa, and Japanese Baseball (2000), a new collection of baseball stories. Kinsella was awarded a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship in 1982; he has also received a fiction award from the Canadian Authors Association (1982), a Vancouver writing award (1987), and the Stephen Leacock medal (1987). In 1987, he was named Author of the Year by the Canadian Library Association, and in 1994, he was decorated with the Order of Canada.
 

Bibliography

Novels:

Shoeless Joe (1982)
The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (1986)
Box Socials (1991)
The Winter Helen Dropped By (1994)
If Wishes Were Horses (1996)
Magic Time (1998)

Short story collections

Dance Me Outside (1977)
Scars (1978)
Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes To Iowa (1980)
Born Indian (1981)
Moccasin Telegraph (1983)
The Thrill of the Grass (1984)
The Last Pennant before Armageddon (1984)
Five Stories (1985)
The Alligator Report (1985)
The Fencepost Chronicles (1986)
Red Wolf, Red Wolf (1987)
The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt (1988)
The Miss Hobbema Pageant (1989)
The Dixon Cornbelt League and Other Baseball Stories (1993)
Brother Frank's Gospel Hour (1994)
The Secret of the Northern Lights (1998)
Baseball Fantastic (2000)
Japanese Baseball and Other Stories (2000)

Poetry:

Rainbow Warehouse (1989)

 

United States