W(illiam) P(atrick) Kinsella Biography
Nationality: Canadian. Born: Edmonton, Alberta, 1935. Education: Eastwood High School, Edmonton, graduated 1953; University of Victoria, British Columbia, B.A. in creative writing 1974; University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1976-78, M.F.A. 1978. Career: Clerk, Government of Alberta, 1954-56, and manager, Retail Credit Co., 1956-61, both Edmonton; account executive, City of Edmonton, 1961-67; owner, Caesar's Italian Village restaurant, 1967-72, editor, Martlet, 1973-74, and cab driver, 1974-76, all Victoria, British Columbia; assistant professor of English, University of Calgary, Alberta, 1978-83. Since 1983 full-time writer. Awards: Edmonton Journal prize, 1966; Canadian Fiction award, 1976; Alberta Achievement award, 1982; Houghton Mifflin Literary fellowship, 1982; Books in Canada prize, 1982; Canadian Authors Association prize, 1983; Leacock medal, for humor, 1987; Vancouver Writing award, 1987, Order of Canada, 1994. Named Author of Year, Canadian Library Association, 1987. D. Litt., Laurentian University, Sudbury, 1990; University of Victoria, 1991.
Shoeless Joe. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1982; London, Allison andBusby, 1988.
The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1986.
Box Socials. Toronto, HarperCollins, 1991; New York, Ballantine, 1992.
The Winter Helen Dropped By. Toronto, HarperCollins, 1995.
If Wishes Were Horses. Toronto, HarperCollins, 1996.
Magic Time. Toronto, Doubleday Canada, 1998.
Dance Me Outside. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1977; Boston, Godine, 1986.
Scars. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1978.
Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1980;Dallas, Southern Methodist University Press, 1993.
Born Indian. Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1981.
The Ballad of the Public Trustee. Vancouver, Standard, 1982.
The Moccasin Telegraph and Other Indian Tales. Toronto, Penguin, 1983; Boston, Godine, 1984; London, Arrow, 1985.
The Thrill of the Grass. Toronto and London, Penguin, 1984; NewYork, Viking, 1985.
The Alligator Report. Minneapolis, Coffee House Press, 1985.
The Fencepost Chronicles. Toronto, Collins, 1986; Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
Red Wolf, Red Wolf. Toronto, Collins, 1987; Dallas, Southern Methodist University Press, 1990.
Five Stories. Vancouver, Hoffer, 1987.
The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt. Toronto, Collins, andBoston, Houghton Mifflin, 1988.
The Miss Hobbema Pageant. Toronto, Harper Collins, 1989.
The Dixon Cornbelt League and Other Baseball Stories. Toronto, HarperCollins, 1993.
Brother Frank's Gospel Hour, and Other Stories. Toronto, HarperCollins, 1994; Dallas, Southern Methodist University Press, 1996.
Go the Distance: Baseball Stories. Dallas, Southern Methodist University Press, 1995.
The Secret of the Northern Lights. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Thistledown Press, 1998.
Uncollected Short Stories
"These Changing Times" (as Felicien Belzile), in Civil Service Bulletin (Edmonton), vol. 35, no. 9, October 1955.
"I Walk Through the Valley" (as Felicien Belzile), in Civil Service Bulletin (Edmonton), vol. 36, no. 1, January 1956.
"I Was a Teen-age Slumlord," in Edmonton Journal, 27 May 1966.
"Hofstadt's Cabin," in Edmonton Journal, 14 June 1966.
"The Jackhammer," in Edmonton Journal, 24 June 1966.
"Something Evil This Way Comes," in Edmonton Journal, September 1966.
"Night People Never Come Back," in Martlet (Victoria, British Columbia), 10 February 1972.
"White Running Shoes," in View from the Silver Bridge, vol. 2, no. 1, May 1972.
"Children of the Cartomancy," in Martlet (Victoria, British Columbia), November 1972.
"Does Anyone Know How They Make Campaign Buttons?," in Karaki (Victoria, British Columbia), January 1973.
"Broken Dolls" (as Leslie Smith), in Martlet (Victoria, British Columbia), Fall 1973.
"The Snow Leprechaun," in This Week (Coquitlam, British Columbia), 9 March 1974.
"Famines" (as Angie Jean Jerome), in Martlet (Victoria, British Columbia), Spring 1974.
"A Literary Passage at Arms; or, TX vs. BK," in Iowa City Creative Reading Series Magazine, Spring-Summer 1977.
"The Elevator," in Canadian Fiction (Vancouver), nos. 40-41, 1981.
"Intermediaries," in Scrivener (Montreal), Spring 1982.
Rainbow Warehouse, with Ann Knight. Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia, Potterfield Press, 1989.
Two Spirits Soaring: The Art of Allen Sapp, The Inspiration of Allan Ganor. Toronto, Stoddart, 1990.
The First and Last Annual Six Towns Area Old Timers' Baseball Game, with wood engravings by Gaylord Schanilec. Minneapolis, Coffee House Press, 1991.
Even at This Distance (with Ann Knight). Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia, Pottersfield Press, 1994.
W.P. Kinsella: A Partially-Annotated Bibliographic Checklist (1953-1983) by Ann Knight, Iowa City, Across, 1983.
National Library of Canada, Ottawa.
"Down and Out in Montreal, Windsor, and Wetaskiwin" by Anthony Brennan, in Fiddlehead (Fredericton, New Brunswick), Fall 1977; "Don't Freeze Off Your Leg" Spring 1979, and "Say It Ain't So, Joe" Spring-Summer 1981, both by Frances W. Kaye, in Prairie Schooner (Lincoln, Nebraska); article by Brian E. Burtch, in Canadian Journal of Sociology (Edmonton), Winter 1980; essay by Anne Blott, in Fiddlehead (Fredericton, New Brunswick), July 1982; Marjorie Retzleff, in NeWest Review (Edmonton), October 1984; "Search for the Unflawed Diamond" by Don Murray, in NeWest Review (Edmonton), January 1985; The Fiction of W.P. Kinsella: Tall Tales in Various Voices by Don Murray, Fredericton, New Brunswick, York Press, 1987.
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Before the publication of his best-known novel, W.P. Kinsella had already written extensively about baseball in four short story collections. Shoeless Joe (filmed as Field of Dreams) is preeminently a paean to baseball as it was once played when it was the national pastime, before inflated salaries, players' disputes, and artificial turf. The novel is almost studiously old-fashioned in its unabashed lyricism and unmitigated affirmation of life and love. Shoeless Joe has nothing in common with either the modernist or postmodernist traditions, and very little with the realist tradition. It posits the possibility of achieving the Whitmanesque dream, but denies that Democratic Vistas had ever been written. Its antecedent is J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, but only Holden Caulfield's vision of a world redeemed through his sister Phoebe's innocence. Shoeless Joe is, in many ways, a plea for a return to the Edenic dream in which the serpent appears only to be crushed. Although Kinsella's novel often seems to be all surface, it can be read on the levels of love story, tall tale, and myth.
Shoeless Joe affirms the absolute redemptive power of human love. Ray Kinsella, the narrator and main character, makes love to his wife Annie who "sings to me, love songs in tongues, bird songs thrilling and brilliant as morning," and he marvels that he "can love her so much … that [their] love puts other things in perspective." (The reader may suspect that Kinsella owes more to E.E. Cummings's views of love and his detestation of technology than he does to any novelist.) Above all, baseball has the power to unite in love those estranged by time and emotional distance. Eddie Scissons, an old player, advised Ray that to be reconciled with his dead father he must realize that they "both love the game. Make that your common ground, and nothing else will matter."
But it is baseball mythologized and raised to the levels of magic and religion that has the transcendent power. As a Moses of the midwest, Ray hears a voice tell him "If you build it, he will come;" the "he" is Shoeless Joe Jackson, a member of the infamous 1919 Black Sox team that fixed the World Series. So bidden, Ray erects a baseball stadium, replete with bleachers and lights, on his Iowa farm, which is soon peopled with the entire Chicago team that nightly play their opponents on a field of planted grass, undefiled by the artificial turf of modern playing fields. But only those who firmly believe in magic and love the game can see the players or the action, when "all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and the universe appears for a few seconds, or hours, and shows you what is possible." Ray's twin brother, Richard, is not privy to the shades because his "eyes are blind to the magic," and he must ask Ray to "teach me how to see."
At times Kinsella puts too great a burden on baseball's redemptive power by giving it too many of the trappings of religion and myth. J.D. Salinger (whom Ray, obeying the voice, has kidnapped from his home in New Hampshire, and who soon becomes Ray's mythic accomplice) eulogizes that people will "watch the game, and it will be as if they have knelt in front of a faith healer, or dipped themselves in magic waters where a saint once rose like a serpent and cast benedictions to the wind like peach petals." Playing baseball is like being "engaged in a pagan ceremony," and as Eddie "Kid" Scissons says, "I know there are many who are troubled, anxious, worried, insecure. What is the cure? … The answer is in the word, and baseball is the word," and those who heed the message "will be changed by the power of the living word." The game becomes too freighted with symbolism to survive the attributions. Then there is the question of evil, which in this Garden takes two forms. One is Ray's wife's brother who contrives to buy Ray's land and plans to turn it into part of a vast computerized farm, destroying the stadium and playing field. Needless to say, his brother-in-law is foiled; technology cannot prevail against the pastoral ideal. The second is Eddie Scissons who has lied about his baseball triumphs and is punished by striking out in a game he is allowed to play as a returned youth; the serpent head cane he fondles is too intrusive and obvious a symbol.
But Shoeless Joe has a great many strengths, in particular its sustained lyricism and Kinsella's love for the literal game and its authentic rituals. It is worth noting that in his recent short story collection The Thrill of the Grass Kinsella continues to write about baseball; his lyricism is unabated, but he usually avoids the excesses that mar Shoeless Joe.
In The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, much of the same imagery of magic and religion recurs. Gideon Clarke finds himself inspired by the presence of his absent father to carry the family tradition forward and prove to the historians and to the Chicago Cubs that the Confederacy did exist. Matthew, the father, dreams a wife named Maudie who steps out of a carnival side show and into his life at least long enough to produce Gideon, whose shoulder-length white hair and strange blue eyes set him apart in the same way that his father was set apart even before the lightning bolt struck him during his first contact with Maudie. These characters continue the tradition of "being dipped in magic waters" that offer healing to a modern world through the ritual of baseball. The stakes of the game are high here: the losers will be consigned to everlasting oblivion. Of course, there is the suggestion that baseball is eternal, and the winners will bask in it forever.
Box Socials, a strong affirmation of love, is set in rural Canada, outside Edmonton. The central hero is one who does not quite make it in the big leagues, but he is admired in his community. All the families take box lunches to church socials, and their social lives are centered around the activity. Kinsella offers a generous portrait of rural Alberta, some touching pictures of life out on the plains.
Throughout Kinsella's work, there is a refreshing belief that love is possible and that life is good. He lifts us to the level of myth where we, too, can walk taller.
updated by Loretta Cobb