James Reaney (1926-2008) in 1972. Photo by Mohan Juneja. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

James Reaney
Born October 1, 1926
Easthope, Ontario, Canada
Died June 11, 2008 (aged 81)
London, Ontario, Canada
Occupation Writer, Artist, Poet, Playwright,
Language English
Nationality Canada Canadian
Notable work(s) Poems (1972), The Donnellys
Notable award(s) Order of Canada, FRSC, Governor General's Award
Spouse(s) Colleen Thibaudeau
Children James Stewart, John Andrew, Susan Alice Elizabeth

James Crerar Reaney OC FRSC (September 1, 1926 - June 11, 2008) was an influential Canadian poet, playwright, librettist, and academic,[1] "whose works transform small-town Ontario life into the realm of dream and symbol."[2]



Reaney has won Canada's highest literary award, the Governor General's Award, 3 times. He won the Governor General's Award for Poetry or Drama both for his poetry and for his drama.

Youth and educationEdit

Reameu was born on a farm in Easthope (near Stratford), Ontario.[3] to James Nesbitt Reaney and Elizabeth Henrietta Crerar.[4] Almost all of Reaney's poems, stories, and plays are articulations of where he grew up.[4]

At a young age he was interested in theatre, and created a puppet show for children while in his early teens.[5]

Reaney studied English at University College, Toronto, earning an M.A. in 1949.[6]

Poet and story writerEdit

In 1949 he also received the Governor General's Award for English language poetry or drama at the age of 23, for his debut collection of poetry, Red Heart..[7]

Reaney married fellow poet Colleen Thibaudeau on December 29, 1951, in St. Thomas, Ontario.[3] They have 3 children: James Stewart (born 1952) and John Andrew (1954), born in Toronto, Canada[4] and Susan Alice Elizabeth, born 1959 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.[4]

After teaching English at the University of Manitoba from 1949 until 1956, Reaney returned to the University of Toronto to complete a doctorate awarded in 1958; Northrop Frye was his thesis supervisor.[6] Also in 1958, Reaney released a 2nd book of poetry, A Suit of Nettles, which won him the Governor-General's Award a 2nd time.[8]

During the 1940s and 1950s Reaney also wrote and published short stories. While not collected in book form until years later, his stories were influential in establishing the style of writing later called Southern Ontario Gothic[6] (later made world-famous by Alice Munro).

In 1960 Reaney began teaching in the University of Western Ontario's English Department.[8] Also in 1960 he put out the premiere issue of his journal,Alphabet: A semi-annual devoted to the iconography of the imagination,[6] which he would edit until 1971. This journal published a variety of poets, including Jay Macpherson, Margaret Atwood, Al Purdy, Milton Acorn,[3] and bp Nichol, and work from such artists as Tony Urquhart, and Greg Curnoe.[1]


For Reaney, the new decade also coincided with "a shift of emphasis from poetry to the public and communal form of drama," starting with The Killdeer.[8] "Though he had been interested in drama since childhood, he was encouraged by a friend to write a piece for the University of Toronto's Alumnae Theatre and the work he created, The Killdeer, launched his drama career (and won a prize in the Dominion Drama Festival)."[9] In 1962 he won the Governor Generals' Award for Poetry or Drama a third time, this time for both his newest book of poetry, Twelve Letters to a Small Town, and his first book of plays, The Kildeer and Other Plays.[8]

Reaney "followed up The Killdeer with Colours in the Dark (1969), Listen to the Wind (1972), Masks of Childhood (1972) and plays for children."[8] His play Colours in the Dark was produced at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 1967.

From 1973 to 1975 Reaney wrote the trilogy The Donnellys, which the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia calls "one of the nation's most important dramas." The three plays debuted at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre, directed by Keith Turnbull.[9] The St. Nicholas Hotel, Part II of the trilogy, won the Chalmers Award. The Donnellys toured nationally in 1975, from Halifax to Vancouver with the NDWT Theatre Company,[3] again with Turnbull directing.[10]

As well, Reaney coauthored several operas with musician John Beckwith, including Night-Blooming Cereus (1960), The Shivaree (1982), and Crazy To Kill (1988).[3]

Other notable Reaney plays include Names and Nicknames, which premiered at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in 1963, directed by John Hirsch and Robert Sherrin); and Alice Through the Looking Glass, which played at the Stratford Festival in 1994.[9]

Reaney also enjoyed painting and drawing and his art works, from the 1940s to 1990s, were put on exhibit at the McMicheal Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, in 2008.[3]

Reaney died on June 11, 2008, in London, Ontario.[7]


Reaney's complex symbolic and poetic regional drama defies categorizing. Reaney's plays are a combination of symbol, metaphor, chant, poetic incantation, choral speaking, improvisation, miming, and child play. Reaney depends on the concept that we, the audience, are all 'children of an older growth' and his audience have responded to this expectation. The symbolic quest as the children search for truth and end in reconciliation with the adult world are the basis of Reaney's plays.[11] Critics have called him a colonial, a rationalist and internationalist, a rabid nationalist, a symbolist, and a poet with the myth of coherence who is yet able to say something in an age of the random.[4]

Of his poetry, The Canadian Encyclopedia says: "Reaney's poetry, collected in Poems (1972), has 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."[8]

Reaney's fiction of the 1940s and 1950s (collectd in the 1994 book The Box Social, and other stories, was "influential in establishing the style of writing that has since become known as 'Southern Ontario Gothic'. Margaret Atwood has remarked that 'without 'The Bully', my fiction would have followed other paths'.... Playing sophisticated games by switching voice, he achieves a kind of 'magic realism', often through the distorted perspective and sense of disproportion of his child narrators."[6]


Reaney won a number of awards in his lifetime:



  • The Red Heart. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1949.
  • A Suit of Nettles. Toronto, Macmillan, 1958. Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill, 2010
  • Twelve Letters to a Small Town. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1962.
  • The Dance of Death at London, Ontario (illustrated by Jack Chambers). London, ON: Alphabet, 1963.
  • Poems. Toronto: New Press, 1972.
  • Selected Shorter Poems (edited by Germaine Warkenton).. Erin, ON: Porcepic, 1975.
  • Selected Longer Poems(edited by Germaine Warkenton). Erin, ON: Press Porcepic, 1976.
  • Imprecations: The art of swearing. Windsor, ON: Black Moss, 1984.
  • Performance: Poems. Goderich, ON: Moonstone Press, 1990.
  • To the Avon River above Stratford, Canada. Hamilton, ON: West Meadow Press, 1991.
  • Souwesto Home (edited by Stan Dragland). London, ON: Brick Books, 2005.
  • The Essential James Reaney (edited by Brian Bartlett). Porcupine's Quill, 2009).


  • The Killdeer, and other plays ("The Kildeer," "The Sun and the Moon," "One-Man Masque," "Night-Blooming Cereus"). Toronto: Macmillan, 1962.
  • Colours in the Dark. Vancouver: Talonbooks / Macmillan, 1969.
  • Masks of Childhood. Toronto: New Press, 1972.
  • Listen to the Wind. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1972.
  • Wacousta: A new play. Wingham, ON: Jubilee, 1974
    • (with a description of its development in workshop). Erin, ON: Press Porcepic, 1979.
  • Baldoon (with Charles Henry Gervais). Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill, 1976.
  • Names and Nicknames: A play. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1978.
  • Geography Match: A play. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1978.
  • Ignoramus: A play. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1978.
  • The Dismissal; or, Twisted beards and tangled whiskers. Erin, ON: Press Porcepic, 1978.
  • The Shivaree: Opera in two acts. Performing Rights Organization of Canada, 1978.
  • Gyroscope: A play. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 1983.
  • King Whistle!. London, ON: Brick 8 (Winter 1980), pp. 5-46.
  • Plays. Toronto: ECW Press, 1987.[12]
  • Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass: Adapted for the stage. Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill, 1994.
  • Two Plays ("Gentle Rain Food Co-op," "One-Man Masque"). London, ON: Ergo Books, 2003.
  • Scripts: Librettos for operas and other musical works (edited by John Beckwith). Toronto: Coach House, 2004.
  • Reaney Days in the West Room (7 plays; edited by David Ferry). Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2009.

The DonnellysEdit

  • Sticks and Stones: The Donnellys, Part I Erin, ON: Press Porcepic, 1975. w
  • The St. Nicholas Hotel, Wm. Donnelly, Prop: The Donnellys, Part II. Erin ON: Porcepic, 1976.
  • Handcuffs: The Donnellys, Part III. Erin, ON: Porcepic, 1977.
  • The Donnellys: A trilogy. Victoria, BC: Press Porcepic, 1983.
  • Sleigh without Bells: A ghost story about the Donnellys. Toronto: Playwrights Union of Canada, 1999.

Short fictionEdit

  • "The Box Social". Toronto: Liberty, July 19, 1947.[13]
  • The Box Social, and other stories Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill, 1996.


  • Halloween: An occasional theatre letter from James Reaney.. Coatsworth, ON: Black Moss Press, 1976.
  • 14 Barrels from Sea to Sea. Erin, ON: Press Porcepic, 1977.
  • "The Real Foundation for the Spree": The working poet in the contemporary world of poetry & criticism. St. John's, NL: Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1978.


  • Let's Make a Carol: A play with music for children. Waterloo, ON: Waterloo Music, 1965.
  • Apple Butter, and other plays for children. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1973.
  • All the Bees, and All the Keys (with music by John Beckwith). Erin, ON: Press Porcepic, 1973.
  • Apple Butter: A play. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1978; Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Editions, 2007.
  • Take the Big Picture. Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill, 1986.
  • The Boy with an R in His Hand: A tale of the type-riot at William Lyon MacKenzie's printing office in 1826. Toronto: Macmillan, 1965; Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill, 1980.


  • Major Plays of the Canadian Theatre, 1934-1984. Toronto: Irwin, 1984.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[14]

Audio / videoEdit


  • Celebration: Famous Canadian Poets CD Canadian Poetry Association — 2001 ISBN 1-55253-022-1 (CD#4) (with F.R. Scott )
  • Souwesto Words: 25 poets in Southwestern Ontario Ergo Books 2002 (Poets on the CD: Penn Kemp, John Tyndall, Molly Peacock, Emily Chung, Paul Langille, Sheila Martindale, Roy McDonald, Sadiqa Khan, Jan Figurski, Jody Trevail, Beryl Baigent, John B. Lee, Cornelia Hoogland, James Reaney, Colleen Thibaudeau, Michael Wilson, Aimee O'Beirn, Jason Dickson, Marianne Micros, Skot Deeming, Victor Elias, David J. Paul, April Bulmer, Julie Berry, Don Gutteridge)

See alsoEdit

Jeff Culbert reads from One-man Masque by James Reaney (ERGO Productions)

Jeff Culbert reads from One-man Masque by James Reaney (ERGO Productions)

Jeff Culbert reads from Souwesto Home by James Reaney (Brick Books)

Jeff Culbert reads from Souwesto Home by James Reaney (Brick Books)


  • Margaret Atwood, "Reaney Collected", Canadian Literature, 57 (1973).
  • Stan Dragland, "James Reaney's 'Pulsating Dance in and Out of Forms'", The Human Elements: Critical Essays, ed. David Helwig (1978).
  • Stan Dragland, ed. Approaches to the Work of James Reaney (1983).
  • Louis Dudek, "Problem of Meaning, Canadian Literature, 59 (1974).
  • Manina Jones. "The Collage in Motion: Staging the Document in Reaney's Sticks and Stones." That Art of Difference: 'Documentary-Collage and English-Canadian Writing. (1993).
  • W.J. Keith, "James Reaney's 'Scrutumnus' and the Critics: An Individual Response", Canadian Poetry: Studies/Documents/Reviews (1980).
  • Alvin A. Lee, James Reaney. New York: Twayne, 1968.
  • James Stuart Reaney, James Reaney (1977).
  • Richard Stingle, James Reaney and His Works. Toronto: ECW Press, 1990.
  • Craig Stewart Walker, James Reaney: Metamorphic Masques,The Buried Astrolabe: Canadian Dramatic Imagination and Western Tradition (2001).
  • Ross G. Woodman, James Reaney (1971).
  • Two Plays Ergo Books 2002 ISBN 0-920516-17-3


  1. 1.0 1.1 University of Waterloo
  2. ""James Crerar Reaney," Encyclopedia Britannica," Britannica Online, Web, Apr. 11, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Richard Stingle, James Reaney and his Works (ECW Press, 1990)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 "James Reaney," Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature,, Web, Apr. 11, 2001.
  7. 7.0 7.1 CBC News
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 Catherine Ross, "Reaney, James Crerar," Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton:Hurtig, 1988), 1831. Print.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Reaney, James," Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia,, Web, Apr. 11, 2011,
  10. "The Donnellys," Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia,, Web, Apr. 11, 2011,
  11. University of Guelph website
  12. Plays of James Reaney, ECW Press. Web, Jan. 21, 2015.
  13. Search Results: James Reaney, May 9, 2011.
  14. Search results = au:James Reaney, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Jan. 22, 2015.

External linksEdit

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