Centre for Research in Young People's Texts and Cultures

People

Catherine Tosenberger

Associate Professor

Contact: c.tosenberger@uwinnipeg.ca or ctosen@gmail.com

Mail:
Catherine Tosenberger
Department of English
University of Winnipeg
515 Portage Ave.
Winnipeg, MB R3B 2E9
Canada

Phone: (204) 789-1472

Fax: (204) 774-4134

Catherine Tosenberger

Biography

Why do you study children’s literature?

I began my graduate work studying folklore, specifically the European fairy tale canon. Of course, when studying fairy tales, one runs smack into children’s literature. I became fascinated with the process by which these stories – many of which, as recorded, were not in keeping with our modern notions of “kid-friendly” – were repackaged as entertainments for children. Folklore studies arose during the same period as the “Romantic” child, and the two discourses intersect in a number of interesting ways. Something I especially enjoyed about fairy tale studies was the way in which one could combine folkloric analysis (how these stories functioned in communities, in performative contexts) with literary analysis (imagery, themes, language). 

When I began my Ph.D. work, I wanted to write about fairy tales retold in the form of YA novels, such as the work of Robin McKinley and Donna Jo Napoli. On my own time, I was reading fanfiction, especially for the Harry Potter series, which I’d fallen in love with my first year in grad school. I became a participant in several fandoms, made a number of friends, and began writing Potter fanfic. Fanfiction was similar to the retold fairy tales I was looking at:  both were retelling, reworking, re-seeing their source texts from a variety of perspectives; as a reader, fanfiction, like retellings, satisfied my desire for further experience with my favorite stories. And fanfiction was circulating within this vibrant community, and was taking full advantage of its “unofficial” status to explore aspects of source texts in all kinds of exciting ways. I realized that I felt far more passionately about this, my hobby, than I did about my nominal dissertation topic, and so decided to write about Potter fanfic, instead – and moreover, to use my own experiences as a fan as way of approaching both the Potter books and the fan stories.  

Potter fanfiction obviously concerns texts published for young people, and also, because of the Internet, has been a way for young people to get involved in participatory fandom in a way they weren’t able to before. Prior to the Internet, if you wanted to read or distribute fanfiction, you had to have the mobility and financial wherewithal to get yourself to conventions, and to get put on the mailing lists – in other words, you had to be an adult (or related to an adult fan). Fanfic is not only fascinating in and of itself, but also, in the case of Potter, is an interesting space to think about larger issues of representations of children’s and YA lit, and childhood and adolescence itself, in literature and media.  Moreover, it’s a space where younger readers and writers have the chance to make their voices heard on those topics, outside of institutional settings. This is particularly important with regards to issues of sexuality, especially queer sexuality, the discussion of which is heavily policed for young people.   

Regarding that policing more generally, I’m really interested in the complex negotiations writers of texts for young people go through to make their stories acceptable to the dual audience of children and adults – and the ways in which texts by, for, and about young people get filtered through our cultural conceptions of childhood and adolescence. Why are certain books “classics”?  Why are others censored?  And what effect has advanced communications technology – and young people’s access to that technology – had on children’s/YA literature and culture? 

In general, what contributions do you see your research making to the field?

In children’s and YA literature scholarship, there’s always this constructed “young reader,” that we, as adult scholars, claim the ability to explicate:  “this is what a young reader will get out of this text.”  That hypothetical young reader is silent and unitary, because it’s the scholar’s invention. But the thing about fandom that is so relevant to children’s and YA lit scholarship is that here, readers talk back – and moreover, they leave a record of it in a public place where anyone can find it. Potter fandom, because of its source text and visible population of young fans, has obvious relevance for children’s/YA literature studies; however, I think study of fandom in general, and the insights that can be gleaned from this vocal audience who responds to the source material in ways both creative and analytical, has relevance to children’s/YA lit – which is, after all, a genre defined by audience. More broadly, I think it’s important to not limit creative and interpretive authority to those anointed by the “official” culture industry (published authors, film and television producers, professional reviewers, academics, etc.); fans are informed, engaged and dynamic artists and critics, and deserve to be recognized as such.  

Degrees Received:

B.G.S., Kent State University (1999)
M.A., The Ohio State University (2001)
Ph.D., University of Florida (2007)

Ph.D. Thesis - Potterotics: Harry Potter Fanfiction on the Internet

This is a study of online fan stories featuring characters from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.  I combine literary analysis with certain insights from ethnographic approaches, locating fanfiction within broader literary traditions of recursive fiction and folk retellings, and also discussing it as a product of a specific community.  Of particular interest are fanfic’s interrogations of the discourse of sexuality: straight and queer, adolescent and adult, normative and transgressive. A focus of the project is how the medium of the Internet shapes fannish communication and artistic production.

Current Projects

Besides turning my dissertation into a book, I have several other projects in the works. I was recently awarded the University of Winnipeg’s Major Research Grant, which will fund my research into 18th-19th century erotic boarding school stories at the British Library; this project will help flesh out my Potter fanfiction work (the books are set at a boarding school, after all), and will lead, eventually, to an historical survey of the genre as a whole. I have recently finished an article concerning the Grimms’ tale “Fitcher’s Bird,” a story of a murderous husband similar to ”Bluebeard.” This year, I will be guest editing a special issue of the fandom studies journal Transformative Works and Cultures, concerning the television series Supernatural (2005-present); the show, whose premise can be summed up as “hot brothers drive around the USA shooting monsters with rock salt, while having crazy incestuous sexual tension with each other,” is nonetheless one of the most interesting and nuanced presentations of folklore in popular culture. I presented a paper (which I am turning into an article) at the conference “The Fairy Tale After Angela Carter” on the use of fairy tales in the series and in the fanfiction. Within the next few years, I plan to do a study of Neo-Pagan texts for teenagers, both fiction and non-fiction; as with fandom, the Internet has made Neo-Pagan religions far more accessible to teenagers, and has helped to create an enormous market for books for young seekers.


Recent Publications

Recommended Books and Articles

  • Brewer, David. The Afterlife of Character: 1726-1825. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2005.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Cart, Michael. From Romance to Realism: Fifty Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Carter, Angela. The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History. London: Penguin, 1979.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Green, Shoshanna, Cynthia Jenkins, and Henry Jenkins. "Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking: Selections from the Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows." In Theorizing Fandom: Fans, Subculture, and Identity. Eds. Cheryl Harris and Alison Alexander. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 1998. 9-40.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Hellekson, Karen and Kristina Busse, eds. Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Hickson, Alisdare. The Poisoned Bowl: Sex, Repression, and the Public School System. London: Constable, 1995.
  • Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, 1992.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York UP, 2006.

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  • Juffer, Jane. At Home With Pornography: Women, Sex and Everyday Life. New York: New York UP, 1998.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Kincaid, James R. Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1998.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Lewis, Lisa A., ed. The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media. New York: Routledge, 1992. 135-59.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Penley, Constance. NASA/TREK: Popular Science and Sex in America. New York: Verso, 1997.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Pollak, Ellen. Incest and the English Novel, 1684-1814. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2003.
  • Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context. Brigend: Seren, 2005.
  • Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan or, The Impossibility of Children's Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1984.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Ross, Sharon Marie and Louisa Ellen Stein, eds. Teen Television: Essays on Programming and Fandom. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia UP, 1985.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Strehle, Susan, and Mary Paniccia Carden, eds. Doubled Plots: Romance and History. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2003.
  • Trites, Roberta Seelinger. Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2000.

    Find this book in the UW library

  • Weisser, Susan Ostrov, ed. Women and Romance: A Reader. New York: New York UP, 2001.
  • Williams, Linda, ed. Porn Studies. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2004.

    Find this book in the UW library

Courses 2016-2017



FIELD OF CHILDREN'S LITERATURE

ENGL-2003/6-001 (FW)

6 credit hours

2016-2017:

M 2:30 - 5:15

An introduction to the study of children’s literature, this course explores the characteristics of this form of literature, unusually named for its readers rather than its producers. We study various strategies for reading young people’s texts: cultural assumptions about children and childhood; trends in educational theory and practice; the economics and political contexts of the production, consumption and marketing of texts for young people; and popular culture and media for young people. Texts from a range of genres, such as poetry, picture books, novels, blogs, and films, are considered.



FAIRY TALES AND CULTURE

ENGL-2114/6-001 (FW)

6 credit hours

2016-2017:

Th 2:30 - 5:15

This course examines fairy tales from their origins in myth and folklore to their uses in contemporary culture. Students explore the major themes and characteristics of traditional tales, such as those collected by Charles Perrault and the Grimms and written by Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde. They then consider the function of fairy tales in contemporary society (in, for example, the social texts of weddings and proms) and study narratives influenced by fairy tales, particularly narratives directed to audiences of young people.



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