Winnifred Eaton/Onoto Watanna—The Alberta Years

Eaton in Alberta winter detailWinnifred Eaton Reeve, more famously known in the early 20th century by her pen name, Onoto Watanna, was the first Asian North American novelist. Works by Winnifred and her sister Edith Eaton have, since the late 1990s, become standard reading in courses on Asian American and Asian Canadian literature. Eaton was quite prolific and wrote many novels characterized as “Japanese romances.” She published her first novel, Miss Numè of Japan, in 1899 and wrote nine more “romances” exploring Japanese culture and history, Japanese-white relations, and Japanese interrelations over the next 12 years. She also wrote a (Japanese and Chinese themed) cookbook in 1914, followed by two fictionalized memoirs that hinted at a Japanese heritage, and one other Japanese/American novel in her later career, Sunny-San (1922). Contemporary literary criticism suggests that Eaton is recognized as a writer who both employed and subverted the Orientalist rhetoric of her time through her Japanese literature.

In addition to her Japanese novels, however, Eaton wrote articles, screenplays, movie scenarios, plays, short stories, and poems that had nothing to do with Japanese characters or culture. Though sidelined by current academic circles, Eaton’s non-Japanese writings are not incidental or trivial. In fact, they reveal a body of literature as temporally and thematically significant as her Japanese writings. Focusing on the culture, climate, and character of Alberta and Albertans in the interwar era, Eaton was a pioneer writer of the Canadian West.

The project will make available to scholars of early Canadian women writers, as well as Eaton scholars (or, more broadly, Asian Americanists), Eaton’s body of Alberta writing. It will consist of writings by and about Eaton, including unpublished manuscripts, and correspondence selected from the Winnifred Eaton Reeves fonds at the University of Calgary’s Special Collections library (the index for the entire physical archives is also included); links to the published novels, Cattle (1923) and His Royal Nibs (1925), digitized by The Peel Collection at University of Alberta; and photographic images owned by The Glenbow Museum Archives. A living archive, this site will continue to grow as more materials become available, and may extend to transcritions some of unclear manuscripts (be they torn, faded, or handwritten) to enable greater clarity and searchability.

Project leader: Karen Skinazi, Princeton University