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By Jason Spencer
June 23, 2011
6:07 PM

Filed under News, Obituary

Robert Kroetsch: 1927–2011

The death of iconic Canadian novelist, poet, and critic Robert Kroetsch comes as a blow to Canada’s literary community, which is mourning the loss of one of its great stylists and chroniclers of the West. “He wrote about the Prairies with passion and insight,” says Kroetsch’s former wife, University of Guelph professor Smaro Kamboureli, who was married to him for 21 years. “He taught me how to love the Prairies.”

Kroetsch died Tuesday in a two-car collision near Drumheller, Alberta, while returning from the ArtsPeak Arts Festival in Canmore. En route to his home in Leduc, Kroetsch asked the driver to stop in at the house his father had built in the town of Heisler, where Kroetsch had grown up.

According to Kamboureli, who remained close with her ex-husband and had planned to visit him this summer, Kroetsch knocked on the door of his childhood home, but no one answered. “He wanted to meet the people who lived there,” she says.

The rural Alberta landscape was central to Kroetsch’s work. The author of nine books of fiction, Kroetsch (who was born in 1927) won the Governor General’s Literary Award in 1969 for the novel The Studhorse Man.

As the founder of the influential journal Boundary 2: A Journal of Postmodern Literature, as well as several works of criticism and non-fiction, Kroetsch was an early promulgator of Canadian postmodernism. “His classic essays had great insight, methodically, theoretically, and culturally,” says Kamboureli.

Kroetsch turned to poetry in the 1970s and ’80s, eventually releasing 14 collections. His last book, Too Bad: Sketches Toward a Self-portrait, was published by the University of Alberta Press in 2010.

Fellow poet and novelist Jon Paul Fiorentino, who viewed Kroetsch as a mentor, says Kroetsch was extremely generous in sharing his time and wisdom. “He always treated everyone as a fellow writer, it didn’t matter what level you were at,” says Fiorentino, who was born in Winnipeg and now lives in Montreal. “He was a mentor to an astonishing number of people; I’m shocked to see how many.”

Krotesch received his B.A. in 1948 from the University of Alberta, and later completed an M.A. from Middlebury College in Vermont and a Ph.D. in creative writing from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He taught English at State University of New York and the University of Manitoba.

In April, Kroetsch received the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award for distinguished artists; in 2004, he was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada. He was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, which recognizes learning and research in the arts and sciences. “He never made claims or demands in terms of his reputation,” says Kamboureli. “He would take what was given to him and was grateful for that.”

Kroetsch’s legacy will live on through a younger generation of writers such as Fiorentino, who, in 2007, began presenting the annual Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry through his literary press, Snare Books.

Fiorentino believes Kroetsch’s work will continue to have a profound impact. “His texts are seminal,” Fiorentino says. “You can’t study Canadian literature without studying Robert Kroetsch. He is too important of a figure to overlook.”

Kroetsch is survived by his two daughters and three sisters.

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