I first met Tony Watkins in the early 1990s at a children’s literature conference in Oxford, little imagining that I would be able to join him as a colleague at Reading just a few years later in 1995, when I was appointed as a junior lecturer here. Tony had founded the MA in Children’s Literature in 1984 at the then School of Education at Bulmershe as the first MA in the field to be accredited as a masters degree in literature, rather than in education or librarianship studies (as is still mostly the case world-wide). Tony’s own teaching and research interests were in Cultural Studies, and he was a great admirer of Professor Stuart Hall, the founder of the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies. Tony was therefore one of the first and main academics to introduce childhood and children’s literature to cultural studies and vice versa. Tony was a wonderful and much-loved teacher, who was known always to ask the most penetrating and crucial questions in the most modest and unassuming ways. At every conference, workshop or presentation those of us who knew him well would wait for the ‘Tony question’ to raise the most important problem or issue. Tony was a great believer in and supporter of the true concept of ‘community’ and his generosity in including absolutely everyone who wished to engage in thinking and learning was remarkable. Tony taught across the world, including spending considerable time as a Visiting Lecturer at the Children’s Literature Research Institute in Osaka, Japan, for instance, and was also a regular teacher at Children’s Literature summer schools in the USA. In 1996 Tony also founded CIRCL: The Centre (now Graduate Centre) for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media, which runs the MA and PhD programmes in Children’s Literature in the department as well as fostering international research in these areas. Both the MA (now M(Res)) in Children’s Literature and CIRCL continue to flourish and I still regularly speak to international scholars who remember Tony and his teaching and research as a major influence and remember him personally with great warmth. Every year since Tony’s formal retirement in 2003 the department has commemorated his achievements with the Tony Watkins Annual Lecture. In 2018, the lecture is due to be given by the Belgian Critical Psychologist Dr Jan De Vos, on how children are construed as subjects in modernity, on February 27th 2018, at 6 pm (venue to be decided). It will be an especial occasion to remember Tony together at this University too.
Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein