Former faculty member Robert Kroetsch dies in car accident
July 8, 2011Tweet
Called one of Canada’s literary giants, Robert Kroetsch, poet, novelist, editor and professor, was killed in a car accident June 21, one week shy of his 84th birthday. Kroetsch taught English at Binghamton from 1961 through 1978, working with other faculty in the English Department to develop its Graduate English Program.
Born in Canada, Kroetsch began his academic career at Binghamton, returning to Canada in the mid-seventies to teach at the University of Manitoba. He then spent several years in Vancouver, British Columbia, before returning to Winnipeg, then retirement in Alberta. He continued to write after retirement and in 2004, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Established in 1967 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Order of Canada is the centerpiece of Canada’s honors system and recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Recipients have enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country.
In 1972, while at Binghamton, Kroetsch cofounded Boundary 2 with William Spanos, distinguished professor of English, general literature and rhetoric. The journal became an early and crucial factor in defining and discussing literary postmodernism. Numerous newspaper reports of his death noted that Kroetsch was the single most influential figure in Canada in introducing postmodernism ideas.
Russell Brown, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, studied with Kroetsch at Binghamton and remembers him as a remarkable instructor and a great friend, “passionate about the texts he taught and the ideas he investigated.
“In the fall of 1966 I was one of four teaching assistants assigned to Bob Kroetsch’s course in Modern Fiction. In typical Binghamton fashion we read a novel a week …[by] major figures of what Kroetsch then termed “the contemporary” to distinguish it from modernism — a forerunner of what would, a few years later, be called the postmodern,” said Brown.
Calling Kroetsch a marvelous instructor, Brown said he would get excited about students’ ideas, “sometimes breaking into a broad smile when he really liked something, he’d point to the student who’d made the remark and shout “THAT’S RIGHT!” After class you could see that young woman or man come out happily talking to the others from the class and delighted with the approval.”
He took a deep and genuine interest in students, Brown added. “He took students seriously and made them feel that they were worth listening to. That was perhaps the most valuable thing he taught me for my own future career as an educator.
“When I decided to take a teaching position in the Canadian north in the fall of 1969, [Kroetsch] sent me the galleys of his third novel, The Studhorse Man,” Brown said. “Though I was, at that point, a specialist in and teaching courses in Renaissance literature, I was fascinated by the book and I published a short piece on it in Canadian Literature—my first publication.”
Brown said that he was hardly the only Binghamton alum to be so effected by Kroetsch. “[His] ability to inspire and motivate continued to be seen in the generations of students he taught and writers he mentored after his return to Canada.”
Kroetsch once told Brown that he found leaving Binghamton difficult. “He’d been very happy there,” Brown said. “But his identifications as a writer were Canadian and in that period of Canadian cultural nationalism, Canada was calling its writers home.”
He is survived by two daughters and three sisters.