Kent Elgin Thompson (author, editor, poet, playwright, and director) was born 3 February 1936 in Waukegan, Illinois, to father Maurice Madison Thompson (a mechanical drawing teacher) and mother Clarice Graves Thompson (an elementary school teacher). He has 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 at UNB.
Thompson is well-known nationally as a former editor of The Fiddlehead, a literary journal housed at UNB. He has written 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 is 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 are 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 credits 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 include the writer Georges Simenon and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which he believes is the great American novel. His own fiction focuses on dialogue, and his novels are structured around unreliable narrators who struggle with endings: the end of a life, the end of a love/marriage, et cetera. He frequently writes about people going through passages of love, relationships, and dying.
Thompson does the bulk of his writing in the morning. When writing a play or a short story, he sits down and writes the entire piece without stopping. He never stops in the middle because he feels that the work would lose its focus and become confusing. He claims the reason the majority of his short stories are approximately ten pages long is 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 writes the entire story by hand, tucks it away for a few weeks, then rereads the story, and decides to either keep it or throw it out. He keeps about one out of every four short stories he writes.
In addition to being an established author, Thompson is 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 claims that as a child 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 Writer’s 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, where he is still living and writing. His latest work, The Man Who Said No (2008), is about an Annapolis Royal resident Jacob Bailey, a Loyalist and clergyman. In the past two years, Thompson has written and directed two new 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 is now a Canadian citizen. He is married to Michaele, a registered nurse from Baltimore, Maryland. Together, they have 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.