James Crerar Reaney

James Reaney was engaged in an energetic program of "rousing the faculties" by holding up the shaping mirror of literary forms to life in Canada, particularly in southwestern Ontario.
Reaney, James
Celebrated poet, playwright, children's writer James Reaney (photo courtesy Jeff Culbert).

Reaney, James Crerar

James Crerar Reaney, poet, playwright, children's writer, English professor, literary critic (b at South Easthope, near Stratford, Ont 1 Sept 1926; d at London, Ont 11 June 2008)). James Reaney completed a master's degree in English in 1949 at the University of Toronto and began teaching that year in the department of English at the University of Manitoba. During a break 1956-58 he completed a doctoral degree at the University of Toronto. His dissertation on "The Influence of Spenser on Yeats" (1958) was supervised by Northrop FRYE, whose work on literary criticism, symbolism and the structure of romance remained an important influence on Reaney's teaching and writing.

James Reaney was engaged in an energetic program of "rousing the faculties" by holding up the shaping mirror of literary forms to life in Canada, particularly in southwestern Ontario. His first book, The Red Heart (1949), won the first of his 3 GOVERNOR GENERAL's awards, the other 2 going to A Suit of Nettles (1958) and a joint award to Twelve Letters to a Small Town (1962) and The Killdeer and Other Plays (1962). Reaney's poetry, collected in Poems (1972), earned him a reputation as an erudite poet at once deriving structures from metaphor, mythology and a cosmopolitan literary tradition while deeply rooted in a regional sense of place. His books of poetry, Performance Poems and Souwesto Home, were published in 1990 and 2005 respectively.

In 1960 James Reaney moved from Winnipeg, where he had been teaching English at the University of Manitoba, to London, Ont, to join Western's English department. In a shift of emphasis from poetry to the public and communal form of drama, he followed up The Killdeer with Colours in the Dark (1969), Listen to the Wind (1972), Masks of Childhood (1972) and plays for children. Juvenile fiction included The Boy with an R in his Hand (1965) and Take the Big Picture. In such plays as Wacousta (1979), King Whistle (1980) and his landmark trilogy The Donnellys, comprised of Sticks and Stones (1975), The St Nicholas Hotel (1976) and Handcuffs (1977), James Reaney combined archival research, poetry, elements of romance and melodrama, mime and myth to tell the central stories and legends of Ontario. Other dramatic work includes Alice Through the Looking Glass (1994), staged at Stratford in 2004 and 2006, and Scripts: Librettos for Operas and other Musical Works (2004), edited by John Beckwith.

Honours include honorary degrees from Carleton (D Litt 1975), McMaster (D Litt 1979), Brock (Doctor of Laws 1991) and Western (D Litt 1992). He became on officer of the ORDER OF CANADA in 1976 and was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1978. The University of Western Ontario holds the James Reaney fonds, including records illustrating Reaney's academic, literary and theatrical activities.

James Reaney was married to Colleen THIBAUDEAU, also a distinguished Canadian poet.

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