Remembering Robert Kroetsch

Celebrated author and former professor of the University of Manitoba Robert Kroetsch has passed away. On June 21, a week from his 84th birthday, Kroetsch was killed in a highway crash.

An iconic non-fiction Canadian author, Kroetsch gained popularity amongst enthusiasts of postmodernism. He founded the journal Boundary 2: A Journal of Postmodern Literature, which was often a part of university texts, and won the Governor General’s Literary Award in 1969 for his novel The Studhorse Man. Kroetsch was also a talented poet, releasing 14 separate collections.

The two-car collision happened on the outskirts of Drumheller, Alberta. Kroetsch had been returning home from an arts festival in Canmore when they passed his childhood home in Heisler, the house built by his father. Always a sentimental man, Kroetsch requested that the driver stop and let him observe the house. According to the driver, he had knocked, wanting to meet the family, but no one answered.

Kroetsch was born in Heisler, Alberta and graduated from the University of Alberta. He travelled to Vermont to receive his MA from Middlebury College and his PhD in creative writing in Iowa. Kroetsch was not only an officer of the Order of Canada, but also a member of the Royal Society of Canada. In April of 2011, Kroetsch received the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award. After receiving his BA in 1948, Kroetsch continued to teach across North America, most notably at the State University of New York and the University of Manitoba. Despite his nature to travel, however, he always returned to Alberta and eventually settled back in Leduc, Alberta.

“I spent many years traveling around the world, but I never left Alberta,” Kroetsch said of his hometown. “It has always been a country of my imagination. I love the stories, the landscape and the people.”

The Studhorse Man was Kroetsch’s most popular work of fiction, which revolved around the adventures of Hazard Lepage and his rare blue stallion. The novel was part myth, part humour and most importantly, brand new. With The Studhorse Man he brought a new spin to prairie fiction, inspiring many young writers to follow his lead. One of those young writers was Jon Paul Fiorentino, a fellow author originally from Winnipeg, who called Kroetsch incredibly generous and “a mentor to an astonishing number of people.” Kroetsch followed The Studhorse Man with 1973’s Gone Indian and 1975’s Badlands.

Robert Kroetsch is survived not only by his two daughters and his three sisters, but by legions of writers, readers, fans and supporters. His ex-wife, who he had been married to for 21 years, was still very close with him and was planning to visit him within the upcoming months. She praised him for his passion, both for the prairies and for his family and friends. His publisher, Linda Cameron of the University of Alberta press, praised his undeniable passion for the written word.

“He was a great storyteller,” Cameron said of Kroetsch, “and a great listener and very generous and a very warm-hearted person.”

On Monday, July 11, young writers and artists from Winnipeg gathered at the Grant Park Mall to honour his memory. The night ended in tears for many, the heartfelt speeches for a man they admired both soulful and true.

Linda Cameron is currently in possession of his final work, a novella. While she stated its publication was not currently being considered, she spoke of him and his legacy: “It is one of those things that, somewhere down the road, there might be an opportunity [ . . . ] to celebrate Robert’s life appropriately.”