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W(illiam) P(atrick) Kinsella 1935–

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Canadian short story writer and novelist.

Kinsella, a native of Alberta, received favorable critical attention for his first collection of short stories, Dance Me Outside (1977), and has been hailed as one of Canada's most talented fiction writers. In Dance Me Outside, Kinsella introduces a Cree narrator named Silas Ermineskin who appears in Kinsella's second book, Scars (1978), and in his most recent collection of short fiction, Born Indian (1981). Critics find his realistic depiction of North American Indian culture balanced in its judgment and effective in its combination of pathos and humor.

In Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa (1980), Kinsella focuses on characters who have vivid imaginations and creative means for coping with life's disappointments. Shoeless Joe (1982), based on the title story in Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, is a comic fantasy about an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball stadium in his backyard and anxiously waits for Shoeless Joe to return and play. Most critics were enchanted by the novel, which combines fictional and autobiographical perspectives.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 97-100.)

George Woodcock

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[Readers of Canadian literature] have had a plethora of guilt-ridden fiction written by white authors about Indians, and a little fiction written by Indians and Metis in which blame is laid on the whites with unconvincing stridency; the truth lies somewhere lost between them. W. P. Kinsella has found a way out of this impasse in a comic approach that restores proportion and brings an artistic authenticity to the portrayal of contemporary Indian life which we have encountered rarely in recent years. Indians living on reservations, Kinsella suggests to us, are not entirely pitiful victims, nor are white men always bullying tyrants. On the contrary, the Indians of Dance Me Outside, with their own strange leaders like the medicine woman Mad Etta, have managed to create on their reservations and in the corners of the prairie towns where they feel at home a life that may be full of moral and physical pitfalls … but which is at the same time a life of their own, held together by a traditional mutual aid that makes the reservation a refuge where any person belonging to the group can return and expect support with no questions asked. Beneath all the comic situations that arise out of the incompatibilities of white and Indian attitudes towards life and its objectives (for only alienated Indians have ambitions in our sense), it is this solidarity of family, clan and tribe that in the end makes us feel that the Indians are in fact more self-integrated than the frenetic officials who attempt to turn them into imitation white men. Yet the saddest characters in all the stories are not the white men, but the Indians who willingly imitate them, and these include not only the would-be establishment politicians like Chief Tom, who becomes successful only when his wife publicly performs a traditional dance he detests, but also the verbose Red Power agitator, Hobart Thunder, who becomes the victim of his own inflammatory propaganda, misunderstood by the Indians who listen to him. Laughter and evasion have always been excellent means of cultural survival, and in the stories which form Dance Me Outside, W. P. Kinsella deploys these elements with a virtuosity that reminds one of Hasek's use of fictional mockery as a social weapon in The Good Soldier Schweik. Survive, evade, remain yourselves, was Hasek's message to the Czechs, and that is not far from Kinsella's message to the Indians. (pp. 100-01)

George Woodcock, "Oberon's Court," in Wascana Review (copyright, 1976 by Wascana Review), Vol. 11, No. 2, Fall, 1976, pp. 98-102.∗

Anthony Brennan

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When I learn that a book is populated by characters called Robert Coyote, Frank...

(The entire section contains 4751 words.)

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W. P. Kinsella World Literature Analysis


Kinsella, W. P.