It is with great sadness that we grieve the loss of one of our own, someone involved with the Alberta literary arts community from the beginning—a great writer, exceptional friend, and esteemed mentor—Mr. Robert Kroetsch. Mr. Kroetsch was killed in a car accident on Tuesday, June 21, 2011 on his way home from the Canmore literary festival. He was 84. Many of you may have known or met him, and maybe you were one of the lucky ones whose life he touched.
At this point we don’t know details of a memorial/funeral but will let you know when we do. We’ve also been trying to come up with ways of commemorating him—his memory. Some of the ideas that are in the works: the WGA putting together a memorial reading/open mic and a scholarship in his name. However, these are still in the very early stages of development. What we have decided to do is to post tributes of him on our website. If you have a memory or some words that you’d like to share about Robert please email us a paragraph of no more than 200 words and we will post them to this memorial page.
With our deepest, most heart-felt sympathy,
Staff & Board at the Writers Guild of Alberta
A Tribute to Robert Kroetsch in the Edmonton Journal by Todd Babiak
A wonderful video on Robert by the University of Alberta Press
Many have express great appreciation for Robert on this site.
Messages for Robert
As the disbelief and shock around the sudden passing of one of Alberta’s most-loved literary leaders begins to seep in, I’m again reminded of how quickly and abruptly life can end. From my experience, it always seems like the ones who are taken from us had this magnetic aura about them—a charismatic draw of sorts that reeled us and made us want to soak up any wisdom or inspiration they were willing to pass along. This is what Robert Kroetsch had. I met him twice—once at Audreys Books for the literary shortlist readings and at the WGA conference in Calgary. It still amazes me that a man I knew so little, could have made such a great impact on my life. His warmth, kindness, and generosity of spirit were influential and exceptional in a human being. And then there were the words spoken about him, by other writers, at the WGA conference—you just knew you were in the presence of someone very special. It was an honour and a privilege to have known him… only for it was for a little while.
Writers Guild of Alberta
Today has been one of those days where words don’t come easily.
As a new writer, I see the expanse of Robert Kroetsch’s brilliant literary—the millions of his well-placed and carefully selected words—as awe inspiring.
I had the pleasure of reading right after Robert at the Alberta Literary Awards shortlist reading at Audrey’s Books. I must admit, I was feeling nervous that I would have to read after him. When I sat down next to him prior to the reading, he introduced himself and I introduced myself. Robert said that he knew who I was, and had read some of my work online. He told me he couldn’t wait to hear me read, and that he knew I would do a great job. I have heard from so many people that Robert had the unique ability to encourage others. I can testify to that.
At the Writers Guild conference, Robert looked me in the eye and told me that he knew I would be a successful writer, that he was sure of it. I won’t forget those words.
My thoughts are with Robert’s family and literary family.
Summer Program Assistant
Writers Guild of Alberta
I met Robert Kroetsch for the first time en route to this year’s WGA conference. I knew I was face to face with a Canadian literary treasure, yet it was clear he was a very warm, approachable person, and I was instantly at ease. That may have been why I felt comfortable staging a spontaneous reading of a scene from a play I was writing at the conference’s farewell lunch and open mic, with Robert Kroetsch in the audience. What I didn’t expect was that, following the conference, Robert would send me a beautiful encouraging note in which he praised my writing and thanked me for sharing it. I will always cherish this gift that exemplifies Robert Kroetsch’s inspiring and generous spirit. We have lost an extremely valuable member of our literary community and I will be forever grateful for the encounters, however brief, I had with him.
Member Services Coordinator
Writers Guild of Alberta
For Robert Kroetsch:
Bob Kroetsch was the most generous writer I’ve ever known. He had a heart as big as Calgary’s Saddledome! Amazing memory too. He always remembered who I was and if I had a new book coming out that particular year. For my third book, If She Could Take All These Men (1995) he didn’t hesitate to offer supportive comments which were included on the back cover.
There was something quite gentle, peaceful and unvarnished about his spirit. One time back in the mid 1980’s Monty Reid, Roberts Hilles and myself were kind of like opening acts for Kroetsch at a Calgary reading. When I offered a couple of positive comments about his reading, he dropped his head, stroked his beard, laughed and said: “I’m more interested in what you wrote in that last piece you read, Ken. And here’s why…” Humility. I loved his humility! His lack of selfishness and self-centeredness. A writer’s writer!
-Ken Rivard -Calgary author of nine books, including Missionary Positions (2008)
I first read Robert Kroetsch when I came to Alberta over 40 years ago. In the early 1980s he was a feature presenter at some WGA event in Edmonton. As part of the event, we novice writers were encouraged to read from our own works, and I volunteered to read a short story I had been working on for quite a while. It got a polite reception from the other writers in the room, and I sat down to listen to those that followed, not really sure whether my work was measuring up (that old question, “Am I really good enough to be here?”). As the readings ended and the crowd began to disperse, Kroetsch intercepted me and told me he really liked my story and that I should keep writing. It was a short comment and my only interaction with the man, but I’ve used the memory of it to kick me out of a funk and get back to the keyboard. My condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.
-Don H. Meredith
As guests of artsPeak Festival, I had the great honour of keeping close company with Robert and fellow emerging writers Chris Masson and Dave Eso for 6 days last week. It was a true privilege to get to know Robert well in a short time span. We ate together and participated in the myriad literary and arts events Dave lined up for us at the festival, including a high school reading and Sunday’s Literary Saloon with Sid Marty, where Robert received a standing ovation. It touched me the way he would smile, turn to someone personally, and say something kind. At every moment, he made those around him feel they were as worthwhile as they believed him to be. Awe of him as accomplished mentor became mixed with grandfather-love. I told Robert we must take very good care of him or Aritha Van Herk would be cross, and I swear we did. I am utterly bereft – Robert joined us Tuesday for greasy spoon breakfast, along with sweet Italian Ph.D student, Roberta. She was interested in the idea of place, and together they were going off to visit places that held meaning in his life and work. Goddamn you Alberta country road for taking him.
I am glad that we had an opportunity to honour him last Saturday at the gala. He could see how much he was loved and admired. How wonderful that he was with us to make us laugh and to listen to colleagues speak high praise and give him great thanks.
– Carolyn Pogue, Calgary
In memory of Robert Kroetsch
I was first aware of, and then privileged to know Robert Kroetsch during the last 25 years. I first met him when I was a beginning writer and working for the Guild as Book Display Co-ordinator. He was attending one Guild function or another and I was there with the Display. He introduced himself to me and spent a few minutes with me then. Since then he and I have met only when he was at a Guild function. He seemed to be able to remember not only who I was, but what I was doing with my writing. When he talked to me he made me feel that I was the only person in the room. His kindness and caring are something I will remember. His enthusiasm for the project In Silhouette: Profiles of Alberta Writers helped me maintain my own enthusiasm for the project. Thank you Robert for being one who accepted me as a writer.
Up until two weeks ago, I only knew Robert Kroetsch by reputation and through his writing. But oh, what writing… His early novels were some of the first I read that spoke of a place I recognized, a landscape and a people not far from my own. Stud Horse Man and Badlands made me realize that I too, could write about common places, contemporary people, the here-and-now of my own experience and understanding. At the WGA literary awards this June I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Kroetsch, the famous author I had read and admired 25, indeed, 30 years ago. He was gracious and kind and funny and self-deprecating and down to earth. He was everything I imagined. His commitment to the writing life was reflected in the warmth of his eyes and his good wishes extended in the grip of his hand.
As a personal memorial I will re-read the early works of Robert Kroetsch. And with him in mind I will attempt to make my own writing as honest, as daring, as passionate and as playful as his. May light perpetual shine upon him.
Hi…I don’t know what to say. Yesterday was one of the longest days of my life. I was in my car driving to my parents when I heard the shocking news about Kroetsch on CBC. My lovely mum immediately asked me what was wrong when I walked in the door. Bless her heart. I’ve shed a few tears every once in a while since then over someone who was so very, very kind and supportive. Kroetsch’s death is a blow. I’ve been blessed by his friendship, and what he has taught me about just being. I will not ever forget. Bob (my husband) and I had a bit of fun with him at the WGA awards and my love was also very sad when I told him of Robert’s death. It breaks my heart. He was looking better than he had for quite a while, and then. To be taken so suddenly and so violently. But knowing him he’s already having fun in the next place, wanting to know everything about it. Maybe he’ll finally have his answers to his countless questions about home.
Though I have only rediscovered Robert Kroetsch again after a number of years, I have enjoyed a number of his books, and mourn his untimely loss to his family, friends and fans.
Robert Kroetsch was a literary giant and full on mentor to untold numbers of aspiring writers during his long lifetime. In 1982 Tamara P. Seiler and I high jacked him (as many did) to unearth unpublished fiction for a special issue of Canadian Ethnic Studies. He did so generously- he always knew where writers were hiding out, how he could help them.
Not long ago at the Banff Centre where Bob was up to his usual magical mentoring, he and I discussed, at my urging, how to play the game of schmier. Who can forget the card game in What the Crow Said? Who can forget the brilliance of the book?- a favourite of my husband’s who sat on the NewWest Board with Bob. Bob’s explanation wasn’t that clear, reminiscent now of his confessed “lack of attention” in “Playing Cards With My Sisters”- a poem that dissolves into laughter with the recognition, “I am the luckiest player.” Those whom Bob touched personally and those who can appreciate his imaginative, often comic, genius are fortunate indeed. In his last book, he wrote for me, “For old times and conversations.” I am grateful for that.
Robert Kroetsch is a founding member of our Editorial Advisory Board (1983-2011).
Through the years, I met him when he was a Professor visiting the University of Calgary;
at the Writers Guild of Alberta, and at the League of Canadian Poets. He was a
wonderful support for his students, collegial with his colleagues, and gracious to
We will be dedicating our “Alberta Arts Days” Issue 56 to Robert Kroetsch.
With Eli Mandel, John V. Hicks, and Fred Cogswell, he will remain a founding member
on our Masthead page for as long as we are publishing. He will remain in our hearts and
The Prairie Journal
On the Death of Robert Kroetsch
I have barely the words to express after hearing about your death today. Last October, I had hoped I would see you on stage with that lonely microphone, but you had the flu and someone else read for you. You were kind enough to autograph your newest book of poetry for us. I never guessed it would be your last.
For days before that, I had practiced what I would say to you. Would I tell you how I laughed the whole way throughThe Studhorse Man? Would I play it cool in silence as you scrolled your name across my page, open and waiting? They told me you were grumpy, but being a prairie girl myself, I figured I could handle it.
When you weren’t there, I turned my disappointment into hope because I knew I would meet you someday. I’ve always kept your book beside my bed. Now, I reach for you through the manufactured ink you left on these pages. It seems so unfair that a car accident claimed you. Your body hadn’t given up yet. Just a mistake that scattered your soul on an Alberta highway.
This prairie girl will miss you more than you’ll ever know.
-Samantha Anne Wiebe