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Q&A: Sherry Simon on honouring Montreal translator Sheila Fischman

Sheila Fischman (photo: Valérie Jodoin-Keaton)

During a career as a literary translator that spans more than 30 years, Sheila Fischman has received a Governor General’s Literary Award, the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize, and has been invested into the Order of Canada. Three of the more than 150 Quebec French-language novels she’s translated have been shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize: Anne Hébert’s Am I Disturbing You? (2000), Pascale Quiviger’s The Perfect Circle (2006), and Kim Thúy’s Ru (2012).

Fischman’s career is the subject of a new collection of essays, In Translation: Honouring Sheila Fischman (McGill-Queen’s University Press), edited by Concordia University professor Sherry Simon (author of Translating Montreal: Episodes in the Life of a Divided City). In Translation features examples of Fischman’s work, essays on the art of translation by Alberto Manguel, Lori Saint-Martin, and others, and appreciations from authors such as Gaétan Soucy, Lise Bisonnette, and Roch Carrier.

Simon spoke with Q&Q about the importance of Fischman’s work and literary translation in Canada.

What inspired you to get involved in this book? This project was proposed to me by McGill-Queen’s Press editor Mark Abley, who, very appropriately and with huge justification, thought it would be excellent timing to put together this homage to Sheila Fischman, after her amazing contributions to Canadian literature and translations.

Why was the timing excellent? Why not now? Sheila has accumulated a very imposing oeuvre. It’s always time to salute the contributions of translators, who are, as everyone knows, insufficiently recognized. It was long overdue.

It was very gratifying to see the turnout at the book launch and the way it’s been greeted. It’s as if people have been waiting for the opportunity to be interested in translation.

What makes Fischman important to Canadian literature? She’s had a huge impact on many levels. She is not just a translator; she is a sort of literary talent scout who proposes new writers to publishers. Making contacts between publishers and writers, making contacts among writers and translators ““ she brings people together.

What are some of the most significant books that she’s translated? What is remarkable is the diversity of writers she’s translated. Some translators tend to specialize in certain kinds of writing, but she hasn’t. So she can translate a very garrulous and verbose writer like Michel Tremblay, who writes in a popular style; to Jacques Poulin, who writes extremely slim and spare prose; to a very lyrical writer like Anne Hébert; or a more comical writer like François Gravel. She really spans the gamut of styles and time periods because she’s been translating for such a long time now.

What has changed in the world of translation since the 1960s? Translation is recognized as a creative act, not simply an act of reproduction. Now there is probably as much translation from English into French. There is also pressure to open the Canada Council for the Arts’ granting program to languages other than French and English so more Canadian translators can translate international authors.

This interview has been edited and condensed.