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Kathleen Wall

James Daschuk

WALL, Kathleen
Educator, Writer

Kathleen Wall was born in Michigan and took both her Bachelor’s and her Master’s degrees in English Literature at the University of Michigan.  She moved to Winnipeg in 1973 with her first husband, Dan Geminder, who was a trumpet player with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.  Told that “there were no jobs for English PhDs,” in 1976, she nevertheless pursued this degree at the University of Manitoba, working with Evelyn Hinz on a study of the Callisto myth that ranged from Renaissance sources to Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, tracing the way in which changes in women’s circumstances were accompanied by changes in the ways authors used the myth and its variants.  Her thesis, defended in 1984, was latter accepted by McGill-Queen’s University Press and published as The Callisto Myth from Ovid to Atwood:  Initiation and Rape in Literature in 1988.  During her Ph.D. studies she began writing poetry more deliberately and published her second book, Without Benefit of Words with Turnstone Press in 1991.

In the meantime, she had secured (despite the Graduate Chair’s advice) a full-time job at Winnipeg Education Centre in 1982, an off-campus program of the Faculties of Social Work and Education that was designed to educate and train inner city teachers and social workers.  WEC’s students were both dedicated and underprepared; as well, the program was, like many marginalized endeavours, under-funded.  She ended each day feeling that something had been left undone, some student left unhelped.  As well, she was the only English professor for the program, which left her feeling isolated.   When she and her first husband separated, she began looking for jobs elsewhere, coming to the University of Regina in 1990, where she found a supportive environment she could not have predicted.  The English Department at the University of Regina values the creative as well as the academic work of its faculty.  In 2001, Wall won the University’s Alumni Award for Teaching; she gives significant credit to those dedicated and underprepared students at WEC for teaching her how to teach.

The Theory Group organized by Ray Mise and attended by Ken Probert, Bernie Selinger, Aydon Charleton, and Jeanne Shami, among others, introduced her more formally to narratology, which she had been exploring rather directionlessly on her own.  Thus her early essays after the Callisto book explored the dimensions of the unreliable narrator in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day as well as other works (from As for Me and My House to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) that helped provide a framework for the way the reader makes sense of the narrative in the face of the narrator’s unreliability.  This was followed by an essay on two short stories by Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood and their use of the mise en abyme for exploring the challenges to women’s lives in the seventies.  Still working in the vein of feminist criticism, Wall began teaching very popular classes in Jane Austen and less popular class in Virginia Woolf.  She initially used her knowledge of narratology to puzzle out Woolf’s use of form in A Room of One’s Own (Journal of Narrative Theory 1999) and Jacob’s Room (Texas Studies in Literature and Language).   The latter essay would soon appear in the Norton Edition of Jacob’s Room.   Sought out for her skills as a teacher of composition by McGraw-Hill Ryerson, she significantly revised Barbara Fine Clouse’s Patterns for a Purpose and added Canadian readings in 2010. Her work on Woolf led her to explore aesthetics and theories of beauty.  She published one of the first critical essays, “Ethics, Knowledge, and the Need for Beauty” on two popular novels, Ian McEwan’s Saturday and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty in the University of Toronto Quarterly in 2008.

In the meantime, Wall continued to write poetry, winning a John V. Hicks Major Manuscript Award for the manuscript that would become Time’s Body (Hagios Press) in 2005.  Her second novel Blue Duets, was published by Brindle & Glass in 2010; both the poems and the novel were shortlisted for a Saskatchewan Book Award.  (Her first novel, entitled Still Lives, remains appropriately in a box, now in the archives, to be resurrected when she discovers what its heroine wants). Wall has attended workshops and colloquia with Lisa Moore and Robert Kroetsch (2007), Don McKay (2013), and Ken Babstock (2015).  After 24 years in the English Department, Wall retired in 2014 to write.  At this time (August 2015), she is at work on a book of ekphrastic poems currently being edited by Don McKay; on a study of Virginia Woolf’s aesthetics that grew out of the earlier articles, entitled Virginia Woolf’s Poetics of Engagement; and on a third novel, Soul Weather.  Lengthy essays on minimalism and craftsmanship wait in the wings.  She keeps a popular blog entitled “Blue Duets.”

Written by Kathleen Wall, 2015
Photograph courtesy of Veronica Geminder

Archival Collections (Finding Aids in PDF format)

2015-39 - Personal and Professional Papers, 1993-2014