Literary translators, used to working in obscurity, are gradually getting the recognition they deserve, and York Professor Agnès Whitfield (cross-appointed to Glendon's School of Translation and the English Department, Faculty of Arts) is leading the way.
Her work as a literary translator and avid interest in the lives of translators has landed Whitfield on this year's short list for one of four Scholarly Book Prizes bestowed by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities & Social Sciences.
The prizes, awarded to the best federation-supported books published in the humanities and social sciences, are named after distinguished Canadian scholars Harold Adams Innis, Jean-Charles Falardeau and Raymond Klibansky. Two Raymond Klibansky prizes are awarded, one for best work in French and one for best work in English.
Whitfield's Le métier du double. Portraits de traductrices et traducteur littéraires (Editions Fides, 2005) is vying for the award for the Raymond Klibansky Prize in the humanities against five others. The book delves into the personal and professional lives of 12 of Canada's leading and award-winning French-language translators, including Michel Tremblay, Jacques Brault, Marie José Thériault and Hélène Filion.
"I felt it was important to honour the individual translators whose work had been recognized by their peers, and who had made important contributions to the development of a specifically Canadian francophone or anglophone tradition of literary translation," Whitfield says.
The publisher describes Le métier du double as a "a ground-breaking book, based on entirely new research, collected from first-hand sources."
Whitfield is so conversant in both of Canada's official languages that she can write and edit in either one. A graduate of Queen's University, Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne and Université Laval, Whitfield also edited the companion volume about anglophone translators in English – Writing between the Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Press, 2006) – about anglophone translators (see YFile, April 11, 2006).
"The idea [for both books] came from a desire to draw Canadian readers' attention to the rich and far too discrete cultural contribution of our eminent anglophone and francophone literary translators," Whitfield says. "You can search a university library catalogue by title, author and subject, but not by translator."
It was important to Whitfield to start compiling the much-needed biographical and bibliographical information needed to encourage further research into the area of translation.
Whitfield says many of the translators profiled in Le métier du double are writers in their own right, yet as cultural agents have fostered a rich intercultural literary network.
Whitfield began translating while a PhD student at Laval University in the mid-seventies. She joined the faculty at York University in 1990 and in 1991 was short-listed for a Governor General's Award for Divine Diva, her translation of Daniel Gagnon's French novel, Venite a cantare (Leméac, 1990).
She served as president of the Canadian Association of Translation Studies from 1995-1999 and became a virtual scholar in residence through a Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council grant in 2006. She is currently completing two reports on the access Francophone and Anglophone Canadians have, through translation, to each other's literary works and is also at work on a biography of American translator Hannah Josephson.
Scholarly Book Prizes, established in 1990, have been awarded to such acclaimed Canadian researchers as Yvan Lamonde, Evelyn Cobley, Wallace Clement and John Myles. The prizes recognize Canadian excellence in research and writing in the humanities and the social sciences, and acknowledge the significant contribution that Canadian scholarly books make to the advancement of knowledge.
The awards are administered by the federation's Aid to Scholarly Publications Program (ASPP), which provides financial support for the publication of manuscripts authored by Canadian scholars. A cross-Canada jury of scholars selects the best ASPP-funded books published each year. This program is funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada.
The 2006-2007 winners will be announced at a reception on Nov. 24 in Ottawa.
More information about the federation can be found at www.fedcan.ca.
This article originally appeared in the November 7, 2008 issue of YFile