Canada Research Chair in Young People's Texts and Cultures [profile]
Professor, Department of English
Department of English
University of Winnipeg
515 Portage Ave.
Winnipeg, MB R3B 2E9
Phone: (204) 786-9185
Fax: (204) 774-4134
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 received1994 Ph.D. (Calgary)
1979 M.A. (Dalhousie)
1976 B.A. (Honours) (Winnipeg)
"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.
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 published in Canada and internationally for young readers that are preoccupied with child subjects on the move: immigrants, refugees, runaways, exiles, tourists, travelers, vagrants, and street kids. In this project, I look at various collections of texts about these young homeless subjects in terms of contemporary theories of globalization and postmodernity: my collections of texts include textbooks about homelessness, contemporary YA fiction, “Safe Streets” and Panhandling Acts, narrative films about street kids, and the discourses of the 2011 Occupy movements.
Otinawasowin: Birthing the Stories of Kayasochi Kikawenow
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, was buried 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 picture book for young people about the life of Kayasochi Kikawenow. On the edges of the words and pictures of the story, 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.
- Editor, Home Words: Discourses of Children's Literature in Canada. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2008.
- Co-author, with Perry Nodelman. The Pleasures of Children's Literature. 3rd ed. New York: Allyn and Bacon, 2003.
- Editor, Such a Simple Little Tale: Critical Responses to L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. 1992. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, c. 2003.
- Editorials, Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures.
- "Traces." Jeunesse 1.1 (2009): 1-8. Link
- "On Collaboration and Knowledge." Jeunesse 1.2 (2009): 1-9. Link
- "Texts." Jeunesse 2.1 (2010): 1-9. Link
- "Readers: Characterized, Implied, Actual." Jeunesse 2.2 (2010): 1-12. Link
- "'Je suis fatigué par le culte de la jeunesse': Or, Walking on Ice in High Heels." Jeunesse 3.1 (2011): 1-10. Co-author with Catherine Tosenberger and Larissa Wodtke. Link
- "'It’s the kids who made this happen': The Occupy Movement as Youth Movement." Jeunesse 4.1 (2012): 1-14. Link
- "Mobile characters, mobile texts: homelessness and intertextuality in contemporary texts for young people." Barnboken – tidskrift för barnlitteraturforskning/Journal of Children’s Literature Research 36 (2013). Link
- "'No place like home': the facts and figures of homelessness in contemporary texts for young people." BLFT - Nordic Journal of ChildLit Aesthetics 4 (2013). Link
- “On Location: The Home and the Street in Recent Films About Street Children.” International Research in Children’s Literature 5.1 (July 2012): 1-21.
- “A Daughter of the House: Discourses of Adoption in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.” The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Literature. Ed. Julia Mickenberg and Lynne Vallone. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 521-61.
Courses 2011-2012TOPICS IN CULTURES OF CHILDHOOD: Childhood in Question: Childhood and the New Millennium
3 credit hours
W 2:30 - 5:15 3M58
In the final decades of the twentieth century, there was an extraordinary interest shown in the conditions of childhood. In 1989, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defined childhood as a universal condition. At about the same time, Neil Postman declared that childhood in the developed world had effectively disappeared in the media age. New media has become not only a primary vehicle for the distribution of child pornography and for the entrapment of pedophiles, but also the site of the expression of young people's sexuality, through such practices as "sexting." In legal and social services discourse, the presence of children outside the home or inside an unsafe home is a trigger for the intervention of the state. At the same time, the image of the vulnerable child can be summoned by the state as the justification for war, as George Bush did in his speeches in the run-up to the US-led "shock and awe" bombing of Iraq. In this course, I propose that we will investigate the textualization of contemporary conditions of childhood as we enter a new millennium. The focus will be on texts produced and distributed in Canada. Among the texts that will be considered, for example, are the UN Convention, Canadian laws governing the relations between child and family, media discourses on child pornography, print and graphic narratives about and for children, and some of the many international, award-winning documentary and narrative films about street kids produced during the past ten years.
Download course outline.
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