Kent Thompson

Kent ThompsonPhoto: Goose Lane Editions
Kent Thompson
Photo: Goose Lane Editions

Kent Elgin Thompson (author, editor, poet, playwright, and director) was born 3 February 1936 in Waukegan, Illinois, and died in Annapolis Royal, NS on 13 August 2021. He was a son to Maurice Madison Thompson, a mechanical drawing teacher, and Clarice Graves Thompson, an elementary school teacher. He had one older sister who was a registered nurse. In 1949, his family moved from Waukegan to Washington Country, Indiana, where both of Thompson’s parents were originally from.

Thompson received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Hanover College in Indiana, where his primary focuses of study were literature and philosophy. He attended Hanover College with the well-loved Canadian writer Carol (Warner) Shields, who later won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction. He earned his master’s degree at the State University of Iowa’s Writers' Workshop. Upon completion of his degree, he taught at Ripon College in Wisconsin. He then attended the University of Wales at Swansea and earned his PhD in literature. After completing his PhD, he taught at the Colorado Women’s College in Denver for one year, and then answered an ad in The Times Literary Supplement for a job at the University of New Brunswick (UNB). After a phone interview, he was hired and moved to Fredericton in 1966 to teach creative writing and theatre.

Thompson was well-known nationally as a former editor of The Fiddlehead, a literary journal housed at UNB. He wrote several stage and radio plays for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, including A Passion for Young Girls, The Menu, Fat Woman and Sister, Victoria’s Return, King Humley’s First Game, and Father of a Famous Son. He was also the author of the acclaimed novel Married Love: A Vulgar Entertainment. The first two novels that Thompson published were The Tenants Were Corrie and Tennie (1973) and Across From the Floral Park (1974). His other novels include: Playing in the Dark (1990), Leading Up, Sliding Away (1986), Married Love: A Vulgar Entertainment (1988), and Shacking Up (1980), originally titled Living in a Motel at the Edge of Town (he was asked to rename it by the publisher). Thompson’s favourite works were a series of his poems under the title A Band of My Ancestors (1975) and his collection of nine short stories, Shotgun and Other Stories (1979).

Thompson always credited the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with teaching him how to read properly and think of himself as a writer. Iowa also taught him the importance of a liberal education and the value of reading authors such as Chaucer. His influences included the writer Georges Simenon and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which he believed was the great American novel. His own fiction focussed on dialogue, and his novels were structured around unreliable narrators who struggled with endings: the end of a life, the end of a love/marriage, etc. He frequently wrote about people going through passages of love, relationships, and dying.

Thompson did the bulk of his writing in the morning. When writing a play or a short story, he would sit down and write the entire piece without stopping. He never stopped in the middle because he felt that the work would lose its focus and become confusing. He claimed that the reason the majority of his short stories were approximately ten pages long was because he used to write them in UNB exam booklets. He does not write drafts of short stories, nor does he type them: he believes that typing causes him to write too quickly and thus jeopardize the quality of his stories. Instead, he wrote entire stories by hand, tucking them away for a few weeks, then rereading them before deciding to keep or discard. He kept one out of every four short stories he wrote.

In addition to his writing, Thompson was an avid biker. His father bought him his first bike during World War II from a neighbour who had been drafted into the military, and he has enjoyed biking ever since. He claimed that his bicycle gave him freedom and an education. In 1993, he wrote Biking to Blissville: A Cycling Guide to the Maritimes and the Magdalen Islands (1993), which is a guide book for biking in the Maritimes. In 1988–89, he was writer-in-residence at the Regina Public Library, where he joined an avid group of literary cyclists. In 2002, Thompson won the Evelyn Richardson Prize for Non-Fiction for Getting Out of Town by Book & Bike (2001), a collection of popular essays. This award is presented each year by the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia and is the province's highest award for non-fiction.

When Thompson retired from UNB in the early 1990s, he moved to Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. One of his last works, The Man Who Said No (2008), is about an Annapolis Royal resident Jacob Bailey, a Loyalist and clergyman. In his final years, Thompson wrote and directed plays, 5 Stabs in the Governor and Washing Soldiers 1797, both of which are about Annapolis Royal History.

Although Thompson did not grow up in Canada, he became a Canadian citizen. He married Michaele Fowler in 1960, a registered nurse from Baltimore, Maryland. Together, they had two sons, both of whom are employed by the Canadian Forces, and four grandchildren.

Jessica Yorke, Winter 2008
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Thompson, Kent. Across From the Floral Park. New York: St. Martin’s, 1974.

---. A Band of my Ancestors. New Brunswick Chapbooks 20. Fredericton, NB: New Brunswick Chapbooks, 1975.

---. Biking to Blissville: A Cycling Guide to the Maritimes and the Magdalen Islands. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 1993.

---, ed. Engaged Elsewhere: Short Stories by Canadians Abroad. Kingston, ON: Quarry, 1989.

---. Getting Out of Town By Book & Bike. Kentville, NS: Gaspereau, 2001.

---. Hard Explanations. New Brunswick Chapbook 3. Fredericton, NB: New Brunswick Chapbook, 1968.

---. Leaping Up, Sliding Away. Fredericton, NB: Fiddlehead Poetry Books & Goose Lane Editions, 1986.

---. A Local Hanging and Other Stories. Fredericton, NB: Fiddlehead Poetry Books & Gooselane Editions, 1984.

---. Married Love: A Vulgar Entertainment. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 1988.

---, ed. Open Windows: Canadian Short Stories. Kingston, ON: Quarry, 1988.

---. Playing in the Dark. Kingston, ON: Quarry, 1990.

---. Shacking Up. Ottawa: Oberon, 1980.

---. Shotgun and Other Stories. Prose Chapbook 1. Fredericton, NB: New Brunswick Chapbooks, 1979.

---, ed. Stories from Atlantic Canada: a selection. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1973.

---. The Tenants Were Corrie and Tennie. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada; New York: St. Martin’s, 1973.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

“A Cheer for the Little Buy and His Triumphs Over Life. (Features Book Review).” Globe & Mail [Toronto, ON] 3 May 1988: A19.

Jones, Lilla Maria Crisafulli. “Engaged Elsewhere: Short Stories by Canadians Abroad.” Canadian Literature 129 (Summer 1991): 189-190.

Lenoski, Daniel S. “Married Love: A Vulgar Entertainment.” Canadian Literature 120 (Spring 1989): 236-238.

McBride, Grietje R. “The Man Who Said No: Reading Jacob Bailey, Loyalist.” The Loyalist Gazette 47.1 (Spring 2009): 52(1).

“A Tale too Nasty to Love. (The Arts: Book Review).” Globe & Mail [Toronto, ON] 4 Aug. 1990: C14.

Wilkshire, Claire. “Thompson, Kent.” New Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. Ed. William H. New. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2002.