Did you know that In August 1976, a 41-year-old Canadian, W. P. (Bill) Kinsella, boarded a bus in Langley, British Columbia, on his way to graduate school somewhere in the whispering farm fields of Iowa. A former restaurant owner, insurance worker, and taxi driver, Kinsella was ready for a new life chapter after years of unfulfilling work and the end of his second marriage.
It wasn’t some mysterious voice that beckoned Kinsella to the University of Iowa and the Writers Workshop, but a persistent dream: to become a professional writer. And over the next two years (1976-1978), this Canadian would live in Iowa City, honing his voice as a storyteller, while quickly falling in love with our state. In an essay for Sports Illustrated, Kinsella once wrote…
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. 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.
Renting a room in an old house at 619 N. Johnson St., Kinsella cranked out one short story after another, sharing all of his writings with the Iowa City Creative Reading Club that met regularly at College Green Park. During his second year of graduate school, Kinsella began working on a new story inspired by Iowa City, the 1919 Black Sox, and his complicated relationship with his father. It was the story that would change his life—and Iowa—forever.
Well, Kinsella read his short story, titled “Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa” aloud for the first time at the next Iowa City Creative Reading meeting – one week before leaving Iowa City. He’d accepted a teaching position at the University of Calgary that would begin in the fall. The following year, the piece appeared in an anthology of short stories, catching the eye of a young editorial assistant at Houghton Mifflin. After reading just a brief synopsis, Kinsella was urged to turn his short story into a novel. And the rest, as they say, is history.
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