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'Shoeless Joe' Author William Patrick Kinsella Dies At 81

Canadian author W.P. Kinsella standing on the baseball field before game five of the 1992 World Series between Toronto Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves in Toronto, Ontario.
Rusty Kennedy
Canadian author W.P. Kinsella standing on the baseball field before game five of the 1992 World Series between Toronto Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves in Toronto, Ontario.

William Patrick Kinsella, the Canadian author whose award-winning book Shoeless Joe was adapted into the beloved film Field of Dreams, has died at the age of 81.

His literary agent Carolyn Swayze issued a statement Friday confirming his death, calling him "a unique, creative and outrageously opinionated man."

And as NPR's Rose Friedman tells our Newscast unit, the most famous line he ever wrote was whispered – "If you build it, he will come," in 1982's Shoeless Joe.

As Rose explains, the book told the story of "an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield, hoping to attract the ghost of a long dead player. The book was made into the movie, Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, as the man who convinces the farmer to follow his heart."

Watch a clip here, where the farmer played by Costner first hears the mysterious voice telling him to build a baseball diamond:

Kinsella wanted Shoeless Joe to be a "gentle read," as Rose reported. "I put in no sex, no violence, no obscenity, none of that stuff that sells," he said," I wanted to write a book for imaginative readers, an affirmative statement about life."

He published almost thirty books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and many of them centered on his great love – baseball. "There's theoretically no distance that a great hitter couldn't hit the ball or that a great fielder couldn't run to retrieve it, and that makes for myth and for larger-than-life characters," Kinsella said in an interview with the CBC.

He also wrote about the indigenous people of Canada, including his first book Dance Me Outside.

His final work, titled Russian Dolls, will be published by next year, according to his agent. She describes the book as a collection of linked stories about a struggling author and his muse, who tells him "dark, dangerously inconsistent stories of her past."

His biographer Willie Steele told CBC radio that Kinsella was always generous, even when he knew his time was limited. "He essentially told me a couple of weeks ago, 'You know, I'm not going to be here much longer, so whatever questions you've got, let's get them done,'" Steele said.

He told the news service that in a recent interview, Kinsella reflected, "I'm a storyteller, in that my greatest satisfaction comes from making people laugh and also leaving them with a tear in the corner of their eye."

Kinsella died of assisted suicide, according to multiple Canadian news outlets.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

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