Centre for Research in Young People's Texts and Cultures


Mavis Reimer

Dean of Graduate Studies

Professor, Department of English

Canada Research Chair in Young People's Texts and Cultures [profile], 2005-2015


Mavis Reimer
Department of English
University of Winnipeg
515 Portage Ave.
Winnipeg, MB R3B 2E9

Phone: (204) 988-7625

Fax: (204) 774-4134

Mavis Reimer


1979, the year I started my M.A. studies, was a time of great excitement and great anxiety in many Canadian departments of English language and literature, with new questions being asked about why and how we might undertake literary studies. My thesis, which focused on the figure of fortune in Renaissance and Jacobean drama, involved me in traditional research and scholarship. It was in my after-hours reading as a new mother that the new questions about the relations between power and value, aesthetics and ideology, reading practices and making meaning became most interesting and most urgent for me. Only a few texts for young people fell into the category of “good literature,” as I had learned to define it. The failure of my education to that point to help me to account for the texts I was reading and watching prompted me to re-think the ways in which texts might be described, interpreted, and evaluated. When I returned to begin my doctoral work, it was to study children's literature.

Texts for young people reveal and produce the terms of societal consensus, and solicit the agreement of readers with these terms: these seem to me the typical functions of these texts in the cultural system. Studying texts designed for young readers, then, allows me to focus on the dominant modes of seeing and shaping the world in a culture. But these texts also show the pressures on cultural agreements and the shifts in societal consensus, so that changes to the form over time can be read for articulations of residual and emergent structures of feeling. In the face of globalization -- which we are repeatedly told is the inescapable condition under which we now live -- mapping the pressures, the shifts, and the continuities in societal consensus revealed and produced in texts for young people seems to me an important scholarly project.

As this description suggests, my interests in the texts and cultures of young people move between the historical and the contemporary, the international and the local.

Degrees Received

1994 Ph.D. (Calgary)
1979 M.A. (Dalhousie)
1976 B.A. (Honours) (Winnipeg)

Ph.D. thesis

"Tales Out of School: L.T. Meade and the School Story"

In my dissertation, I looked at the school stories written by L.T. Meade, a highly prolific, popular writer of girls' books at the end of the nineteenth century. My objective was to demonstrate that a "thick" reading of even such a denigrated writer as Meade produced a new understanding and, therefore, valuation of her achievements. Using the terms Roman Jakobson uses to distinguish the different parts of the speech event to organize my dissertation (sender; message, codes, and context; and receiver), I discussed Meade’s understanding of her writing; the contexts of the first-wave feminist campaigns for the reform of girls’ education and for the raising of the age of consent; and the audience of Meade’s journalistic writing and fiction.

Current Projects

Discourses of homelessness and texts for young people

The beginning of the twenty-first century has seen an increasing number of fictional and non-fictional narratives for young readers published in Canada and internationally that are preoccupied with child subjects on the move: immigrants, refugees, runaways, exiles, tourists, travelers, vagrants, and street kids. In this book-length project, I look at various collections of texts about these young homeless subjects in terms of contemporary theories of globalization and postmodernity. In the first chapter, “No Place Like Home,” I consider Canadian Young Adult novels published after 1990, some of which exploit the category of homelessness tactically. Textbooks on homelessness used with young people in social studies classrooms are considered in conjunction with Michel Foucault’s theories of discipline, governmentality, and biopower in chapter two, “Disciplines of Home.” Theories of the city and international narrative and documentary films about street kids released after 1979, the International Year of the Child as designated by the United Nations, will be featured in chapter three: “On Location.” “The Occupy Movement” is the focus of my fourth chapter, along with theories of “the poor” and the precariat. In “Exchanges,” my concluding chapter, I reflect on young people’s texts as sites of exchange between the literal and the figurative, using a cultural studies approach to read the discursive complexity of figurations of homelessness.

Otinawāwosōwin: Birthing the Stories of Kayasochi Kikawenow and Pīsim Finds Her Miskanow

In 1993, two men from the community of South Indian Lake in Manitoba found the burial site at Nagami Bay of a woman who came to be known as Kayasochi Kikawenow. Among the objects found at the site were beads of seed, bone, and glass, and a variety of hand tools which had been buried with the young woman, who, it was concluded, died about 1665 when she was in her mid-twenties. In this collaborative research project, I am working with William Dumas, storyteller and educator, and a group of scholarly collaborators to produce a series of picture books about the life of Kayasochi Kikawenow. The first of these is the award-winning Pīsim Finds Her Miskanow, which was published in 2013. On the edges of the words and pictures of each of the stories in the series, readers will find supplementary material -- photographs, maps, diagrams, Cree vocabulary -- to help them to situate and to extend the meanings of the story.”

Scenes of Instruction: The Subject in/of Victorian Children's Literature

In the history of children's literature, it has been common to identify the second half of the nineteenth century in England as the "Golden Age" of children's literature and to claim the narrative patterns established during this period as determining many of the conventions of children's literature that endure into the twenty-first century. Much has been made critically of the celebration of the imagination and the free play of childhood in the texts of this period. In these studies, I am looking again at some key texts of this period and re-reading them within the social, political, and cultural contexts of their production, to ask how such a practice of reading reveals a different project at the heart of these texts.

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