Author W.P. Kinsella, who made the poetry of baseball come alive on the page, has died. William Patrick Kinsella died on Friday afternoon in Hope, B.C., invoking the assisted-dying provisions of Bill C-14, according to a statement from his publicist. He was 81.
Mr. Kinsella was a prolific author who was best known for his 1982 novel Shoeless Joe, about an Iowa farmer who hears a voice telling him to build a baseball diamond in his corn field. The novel was adapted for film as Field of Dreams – a critically acclaimed blockbuster that made the already beloved novel a sensation.
Bill Kinsella was born in Edmonton on May 25, 1935, and raised near Darwell, outside Edmonton, where he was home-schooled by his mother. His father, a plastering contractor, had played minor league baseball. Young Bill fell in love with the game after the family moved to Edmonton when he was 10. At 14, he received an honourable mention in a YMCA contest for Diamond Doom, a story about a murder in a baseball stadium.
He went on to publish nearly 30 books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
A short story by Mr. Kinsella, Lieberman in Love, was the basis for a film of the same name, which won the 1996 Academy Award for best short subject.
His last work of fiction, tentatively titled Russian Dolls, is a collection of stories nested within one another and set in Vancouver. The book, edited and now in production, is to be published in 2017 by Saskatchewan publisher Coteau Books.
"We were very, very excited to get this manuscript from W.P. Kinsella, and now with [his death], it gives the whole project a different and a very special meaning," Coteau publisher John Agnew said on Friday.
"This is a loss for Canadian literature and literature at large," Mr. Agnew continued. "While he'll always be remembered for Shoeless Joe, the first book I remember reading of his was Dance Me Outside. ... I know the book was controversial for voice appropriation, but for a kid growing up in downtown Toronto, it was quite a revelation."
Shoeless Joe won several awards, including the Canadian Authors Association Prize, the Alberta Achievement Award, the Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, according to Mr. Kinsella's website.
"He was a dedicated story-teller, performer, curmudgeon, an irascible and difficult man," his literary agent, Carolyn Swayze, said in a statement on Friday. "His fiction has made people laugh, cry, and think for decades and will do so for decades to come. Not a week has passed in the last 22 years, without receiving a note of appreciation for Bill's stories. His contribution ... will endure."
Mr. Kinsella was a fan of Scrabble, the Toronto Blue Jays and the DH rule – but not of artificial turf. He received numerous honours, including the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award, which he won in 2009 for his enduring contribution to the literary arts.
In 1993, he was named to the Order of Canada. "He has attained international stature as an author of stories about people who pursue their dreams, despite the failures and foibles they must struggle to overcome," the citation stated, adding that the sentence referencing Shoeless Joe's and Field of Dreams' theme of faith and hope – "if you build it, he will come" – had become part of North American culture.
In 2001, Mr. Kinsella wrote an essay for The Globe and Mail about what it takes to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame – and advocating for the inclusion of his most famous character.
"If you go to Cooperstown, you'll read about Shoeless Joe, his flawless fielding, his scalding batting average, even his great performance in the 1919 World Series, the series he allegedly help[ed] throw; if you visit the Hall of Fame's web site you can see his glove," Mr. Kinsella wrote. "That he's not among the 187 former players whose bronze plaques hang in the Hall is wrong. What more can I say?"
In 2011, Mr. Kinsella won the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame's Jack Graney Award for Shoeless Joe. The award recognizes a significant contribution to baseball in Canada through a life's work or a singular outstanding achievement.
"I wrote it 30 years ago, and the fact that people are still discovering it makes me proud," he said in a statement at the time. "It looks like it will stand the test of time."
W.P. Kinsella leaves his daughters Erin and Shannon Kinsella, stepchildren and grandchildren. In accordance with his wishes, there will be no memorial service.
With a report from Wendy Stueck