"Shakespeare is – let us put it this way – the least English of English writers. The typical quality of the English is understatement, saying a little less than what you see. In contrast, Shakespeare tended toward the hyperbolic metaphor, and it would come to us as no surprise to learn that Shakespeare had been Italian, or Jewish, for instance." -- Jorge Luis Borges 1979
Publishing Translation in Montreal, I
It is a pleasure to speak about translation, as this is a subject that interests me, and I myself have translated a fair amount of material from French to English as well as publishing numerous translations in one form or another over a period of about thirty years. I have also published – and am publishing – several Arab-Canadian writers living in Montreal, and it is my hope that you will find my experience of interest even though I must begin with a disclaimer, as I have no experience in publishing translations from the Arabic.
Twenty years ago, in 1997, I founded Blue Metropolis Foundation, and for the next fourteen years I was President & Artistic Director of the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival, which, bilingual in the first year (1999) in French and English, added languages every year, and soon included public events that took place entirely in languages such as Italian, a variety of Italian dialects, Spanish, Catalan, German, Haitian Créole, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, Urdu, and Arabic. We did not translate any of these languages, and not only because simultaneous translation was prohibitively expensive; instead. Instead – and to the best of my knowledge this is unique in the world – we did an enormous amount of work, working with partners in the different communities where these languages are spoken. We knew there were communities who admire these writers and who would be thrilled to meet them in Montreal, so we were able to bring in audiences that appreciated the work of these authors in the languages in which they were written.
We did also program and promote translation, however, working with the Literary Translators Association of Canada and inventing the Translation Slam, which again included writers working in a variety of different languages, translated into English or French or both.
So far as work written in Arabic is concerned, my great advisor and friend at Blue Metropolis was Dr. Issa J. Boullata, who was – at the time I met him – on the point of retiring from Islamic Studies at McGill, and who was keenly interested in the ways in which Blue Metropolis could include Arab writers in its programming. With his help we were able to bring the renowned Syrian-born poet Adonis to Montreal to participate in the festival. And with his help we were able, the following year, to convince the Abu Dhabi Authority on Culture and Heritage to sponsor an annual Blue Metropolis Arab Literary Prize that enabled us to cover the costs of bringing a significant Arab writer to Montreal every year to participate in the festival. This was unique in North American literary festivals, and it succeeded in dramatically increasing the visibility of Arab writers in Montreal and across in Canada.
I resigned from Blue Metropolis in 2010 in order to spend my time writing and publishing, so I created a website, in March 2011 and started up a literary forum, Salon .ll., which published articles, reviews, and interviews in English and then, from early 2012, in French as well. The content is mostly different in the two languages, depending on the interests of the contributor, but we have always included some work in translation either into French or into English, and occasionally translated an article that appeared in one language into the other.
In June 2011, I incorporated Linda Leith Éditions | Linda Leith Publishing, a trade publishing house focused primarily on literary fiction and non-fiction. Our first books in English were launched in Spring 2012, and our first books in French appeared a few years later. Our intention – as with Salon .ll. – had always been to publish books in French as well as in English, though it is vanishingly rare for a Canadian book publisher to work in both languages. (I know of only one other example, a comics publisher called Pow Pow that started off in French and now also publishes in English.)
Translations between English and French
There is some funding for translation from the Quebec government agency, SODEC, and LLP | LLÉ has been glad to receive grants from that source. The Canada Council for the Arts Translation Grants, which have a larger budget, cover the entire translation cost, at a carefully stipulated rate per word. The Canada Council also has strict rules about eligibility criteria for support for literary translations.
In our third year, 2015, we had published enough books to become eligible apply for funding for literary translations into English, and we now publish at least two works in translation annually. By late 2016, by which time we had published the requisite three literary titles in French, we could apply for funding for our first translations into French, and we are now publishing at least one such title a year as well as books originally written in French.
We have published Arab writers, including Issa J. Boullata, first a memoir of his youth in the Jerusalem of the 1930s and 1940s and later short fiction, in French and English), and we will be publishing Montreal playwright and novelist Abla Farhoud, who writes in French, in a translation by Judith Weisz Woodsworth in March 2018, as well as a novel written in English by the Palestinian-Newfoundland writer Leila Marshy. So far, we have not been presented with works originally written in Arabic.
Translations from languages other than French and English
In many ways, the structures of support for literary translation in this country are designed for translations between English and French, and much less so for translations from other, non-Official languages. The most interesting experiences we have had in publishing work in translation – and the experiences that may be most pertinent to Arab-Canadians working in Arabic – have therefore been with work written neither in English nor in French. We don’t have a lot of experience in this, as there were and are a few roadblocks, but we have managed to publish two works in translation from Chinese, one in 2016 and one in 2017, and we are planning a third for publication in 2019.
The Canada Council rules were unclear, when we were first contemplating a translation from Chinese into English, with the result that we were told such a book was not eligible for a translation grant at all, even though both the writer, Xue Yiwei, and the translator, Darryl Sterk, are Canadian citizens. This seemed very unfair, as immigrant writers pay their taxes, too, and should have the right to support from government programs. Though we did secure government funding for that first book – a collection of short stories entitled Shenzheners – we decided to publish the book anyway, and it appeared in September 2016. The book went on to win the Montreal Arts Council – Blue Metropolis Prize for Literary Diversity in April 2017.
By the time we decided to publish Yiwei’s second book in translation, the novel Dr. Bethune’s Children, the Canada Council had decided that translations from other languages are indeed eligible, so that book was funded. Not only that, but we were also granted promotional support for Shenzheners.
So, the very good news is that books that are written by Canadians or permanent residents of Canada in languages other than English and French are eligible for funding from the Canada Council, so long as the book was previously published in the original language.
© 2017, Linda Leith
Linda Leith thanks Sherry Simon, Kathryn Henderson, and the TAAM-TAIM collective for the invitation to participate in Traduire l'arabe.