Since baseball season has arrived I’ve been thinking a lot about W. P. (Bill) Kinsella the author of Shoeless Joe, which was made into the movie Field of Dreams. As you probably know, Kevin Costner played the role of Ray Kinsella, a young Iowa farmer who builds a baseball field on his farm in response to mysterious voices. Shoeless Joe Jackson and other players from the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal emerge from his cornfield to play, as well as Ray’s father, a young aspiring player.
That said, in 1995, I had the great opportunity to attend a week-long writing workshop led by W. P. Kinsella at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival. The workshop was relatively small. There were about eight writers. Each day we met for three hours at a coffee shop, just off the campus, to hear Kinsella talk about the craft of writing and to share and critique our work. One thing that stayed with me is the importance of using the senses in writing. Kinsella said he kept a list of them posted above his desk.
The workshop with Kinsella included a trip to the movie site of the Field of Dreams. The plan was that on Thursday a few members would drive their vehicles to take us there, but at the last minute one of the drivers backed out. Several people had flown in and didn’t have cars, so I hesitantly offered mine, a tiny Subaru with no air conditioning. It was June and quite warm, in the 80s, but my offer was accepted, and to my surprise, Kinsella volunteered to ride with me and another brave soul, Jack Sullivan, who was crammed into the back seat. So off we went—Kinsella clutching a liter bottle of water, our windows rolled down, and our hair blowing every which way. Most of our conversation took place at a pretty high volume, since we were competing with wind noise.
The Field of Dreams is located near Dyersville, Iowa, a 1 ½ hour drive from Iowa City. As you can imagine, the drive had a surreal quality to it. I was heading to the Field of Dreams with the author who made it all happen sitting next to me! I truly can’t remember much of what we talked about. I know we talked about writing. And we talked about our aging parents. Kinsella said his mother wasn’t as sharp as she used to be, but when the subject of baseball came up, she could converse with the best of fans.
The Field of Dreams finally appeared before us. It looked surprisingly just as it does in the movie. A narrow dirt road wound its way toward the white farm house, ending in a parking area. Next to it was the baseball field, edged with the tall green stalks of corn. There were a couple of other vehicles there. A few people wandered across the grounds. Kinsella bought us all ice cream at a concession stand run by the woman who owned the farm house. She was very pleased to see him. I bought a baseball for my husband and Kinsella signed it, “Go the Distance. Bill Kinsella.” (My husband still has that ball, sitting in his office on a bookshelf.) Then more cars arrived, and it happened. People slowly wandered out onto the field, sort of like the ghost players did in the movie, and began to play baseball. Kinsella and some of our other workshop members joined them. I sat on the bleachers and soaked it all in.
When it was time to head back to Iowa City, I was surprised when Kinsella volunteered to ride back with Jack and me. It was still hot. He was a gracious man to do that. For years after that, I received his annual newsletter. He was an avid Scrabble player and won lots of tournaments. He was a loving husband and proud father and grandfather. And he continued to be active in the literary world. I was sad to hear in 2016 that he had passed away.
Although Kinsella is best known for Shoeless Joe and the Field of Dreams movie, he wrote many other great books. He’s also a great short story writer. See a list of his books at https://www.wpkinsella.com/index.html.
If you haven’t made it to the Field of Dreams yet, I highly recommend that you do. There’s something kind of magical about that place.