Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Robert Kroetsch, novelist, poet, essayist, and teacher, was born on June 26, 1927, in Heisler, Alberta. He received degrees in English from the University of Alberta, Middlebury College, and the University of Iowa. After teaching at the State University of New York–Binghamton, he returned in 1978 to Canada and the University of Manitoba. He has served as writer in residence at many universities and is a frequent and popular teacher of creative writing at the Banff Centre in Alberta. Kroetsch sets his writing in and comments directly upon the Great Plains, particularly, central and southern Alberta.

Growing up on a farm in central Alberta, Kroetsch gained an ear for storytelling from the political speeches of his uncles, the family histories of his aunts, the pulp fiction favored by the hired men, and the all-encompassing cosmology of the Bible. His university training emphasized the European.North American literary canon, and Kroetsch himself sought out the trickster and shaman stories of the Cree and Blackfoot peoples who had lived in Alberta for millennia. His fiction combines finely observed details of the places and people of the Great Plains with a postmodern sensibility that disrupts chronology and cause and effect. His narratives are filled with a virtuosic bawdiness. For instance, The Studhorse Man (1969), for which he won the Governor General's Award, follows the odyssey of trickster and phallic acrobat Hazard Lepage as he leads his great blue stallion around post-World War II Alberta in search of mares in heat. Other novels dealing with the Great Plains include Words of My Roaring (1966), a parody of the 1935 Alberta election; Gone Indian (1973); Badlands (1975), a retelling of the great dinosaur hunts along Alberta's Red Deer River; and What the Crow Said (1978). Kroetsch has also produced a relatively small number of short stories and creative nonfiction essays about the Prairies.

Like his fiction, Kroetsch's poetry accommodates and parodies world influences as well as Prairie narratives. In Seed Catalogue (1977) he asks,

How do you grow a prairie town?

The gopher was the model.

Stand up straight:

telephone poles

grain elevators

church steeples.

Vanish, suddenly: the

gopher was the model.

Later, in The Hornbooks of Rita K (2001), he writes, more cryptically,

Rita was accustomed to the deceptive randomness of

wind and rain and sky, to the violence and the blinding

inevitability of prairie sun. She had an aversion to

intentional space.

Kroetsch's Alberta (1968) is a memoir of place that sets up in a nonfictional genre some of the same themes that appear in his fiction. His essay collection The Lovely Treachery of Words (1989) both explores the work of other Prairie writers and sets forth some of the theory underlying his own work, while the autobiographical essays in A Likely Story (1995) further explicate his life and craft. Perhaps Kroetsch best explained his aims–and his achievements–in a 1981 interview in which he said that his fiction and poetry "work out new relationships" between men and women as they develop in the new urban centers of the West. Because the Prairies were wiped out, "right down to zero," during the Great Depression, "we started to invent a new concept of self and a new concept of society. Now I'm intrigued to watch that developing in the Prairies."

Frances W. Kaye University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Lecker, Robert. Robert Kroetsch. Boston: Twayne, 1986.

Neuman, Shirley, and Robert Wilson, eds. Labyrinths of Voice: Conversations with Robert Kroetsch. Edmonton: NeWest Press, 1982.

Twigg, Alan. "Robert Kroetsch: Male." In For Openers: Conversations with 24 Canadian Writers. Madeira Park, British Columbia: Harbour Publishing, 1981, 107–16.

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