Author W.P. Kinsella at a 2015 event in Newton celebrating his 80th birthday and the launch of Essential W.P. Kinsella.

Former White Rock author W.P. Kinsella dies at 81

Writer best known for novel Shoeless Joe, which was turned into Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams.

One of White Rock’s most famous one-time residents – and one of North America’s most beloved authors – has died.

W.P. Kinsella – whose novel, Shoeless Joe, was turned into the popular 1989 film Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner – passed away Friday in Hope, choosing to end his own life under Canada’s doctor-assisted death legislation, which came into effect in June. He was 81.

Kinsella’s death was confirmed by his Newton-based literary agent Carolyn Swayze, but no further details of Kinsella’s health were provided.

In a short statement released Friday, agent Carolyn Swayze – who, at the behest of Kinsella, gave up practising law to represent him – said the popular fiction writer “was a unique, creative and outrageously opinionated man.”

“Bill Kinsella and his (then-wife) Ann Knight were my first friends when I moved to White Rock in 1984. They were incredibly kind and supportive over the years,” Swayze wrote. “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.”

Kinsella spent 15 years living in White Rock before moving in the late 1990s to a house on a 150-year-old orchard in the Fraser Canyon.

But despite not living on the Semiahmoo Peninsula for years, the prolific writer has always been considered part of the city’s history – something that, in an 2009 interview with Peace Arch News, he chalked up to poorly researched online biographies that continued to list White Rock as his home long after he left.

“People still think Bill is sitting there in his apartment over Cosmos Restaurant, tapping away on his 1957 Royal typewriter,” his spouse, Barbara Turner Kinsella, once told PAN.

Despite moving away, Kinsella made occasional forays back to the Metro Vancouver area. In the spring of 2015, he attended an event in Surrey – hosted by Swayze  – that served both as an 80th birthday celebration as well as an official launch of a book, The Essential W.P. Kinsella, which showcased his decades’ worth of writing.

And in 2009, he was honoured in Vancouver with the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I’m very pleased,” he told PAN at the time. “It’s nice to have your work recognized, especially a body of work over the years.”

Kinsella was also a winner of the prestigious Leacock Award, and in 1993 was named to the Order of Canada.

While Kinsella is perhaps best known for his baseball writing – Shoeless Joe, specifically – he was the author of nearly 30 books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, a well as three plays. He has a new book, Russian Dolls – a “collection of linked stories” – set to be published in 2017.

While some authors – or artists of any stripe – might bristle at the idea of being remembered for just one piece of work, Kinsella once told PAN that he was happy to be associated with Field of Dreams.

“They couldn’t have done a better job with it than that,” he said. “I’m one of the only writers I know who has liked a major movie made from one of their novels. Usually movie-makers screw it up.”

He was equally proud of his entire body of work, he added.

“Many writers say that when they go back they want to change things,” he said. “I’m happy with what I wrote. I laugh out loud when I read them. I don’t want to change anything.”

Kinsella is survived by his daughters, Erin and Shannon Kinsella, stepchildren Scarlet and Aaron Gaffney and Lyn Calendar and four grandchildren, as well as his best friends Lee and Maggie Harwood.

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