James C. McKinley, longtime Kansas City writer and editor, died Saturday.
Some readers knew McKinley, 79, for his fiction. He published several collections of short stories such as “Acts of Love” in 1987 and “Who Taught Me to Swim” in 2007.
Others enjoyed McKinley’s nonfiction. In 1977 he published “Assassination in America” for which he interviewed James Earl Ray, convicted assassin of Martin Luther King Jr. In 1989, McKinley agreed to interview Kansas City serial killer Bob Berdella on public television.
McKinley also wrote about rural survivalist communities and pari-mutuel betting, publishing in Playboy and Esquire and other magazines. In the early 1990s, he prepared oral histories of the American Royal Livestock, Horse Show and Rodeo as well as the National Catholic Reporter.
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Beginning in 1970, McKinley taught English and creative writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In 1985, he became editor of New Letters, the quarterly literary magazine published by UMKC.
During McKinley’s tenure, which lasted 17 years, the magazine featured contributions from many well-known writers, among them Amiri Baraka, Thomas Berger, Annie Dillard and John Updike. McKinley also championed poets as diverse as Thomas McAfee, a former University of Missouri faculty member, and Dan Quisenberry, the late Kansas City Royals relief pitcher and — later in life — poet.
McKinley’s last edition of New Letters, a special issue devoted to baseball, appeared in 2002.
McKinley grew ill earlier this month, according to his son, James McKinley Jr.
Physicians at the University of Kansas Hospital believed McKinley to perhaps have a rare blood disorder, the younger McKinley said. Family members transferred McKinley to Kansas City Hospice House, where he died at 2:40 p.m. Saturday while surrounded by his four children and his second wife, Glenda McCrary.
McKinley, born Dec. 8, 1935, in Omaha, Neb., earned degrees in journalism and psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
After serving in the U.S. Army, he worked in advertising for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati. He later worked for Young & Rubicam in New York. In a 2013 issue of New Letters, McKinley published “Confessions of an Actual Mad Man,” which detailed his experiences in the 1960s advertising industry.
Between advertising industry stints, McKinley traveled to Spain for nine months where he wrote a novel and met British poet and novelist Robert Graves. McKinley later prepared a biography of Graves.
McKinley eventually returned to academia, earning a doctorate in literature at the University of Missouri.
His father’s literary impact goes beyond his own writing, said James McKinley Jr.
“He inspired generations of writers who took his courses at UMKC,” he said.
The elder McKinley also inspired his four children: James Jr., a reporter with the New York Times; Jesse McKinley, also a reporter with the Times; Gabe McKinley, a playwright in New York; and Molly McKinley, a film editor in Santa Fe, N.M.