Friday, March 09, 2012

Introducing the Biblioasis International Translation Series Website

We're pleased to launch the new online home of the Biblioasis International Translation Series website and blog over at  You can find excerpts, reviews and further information on all current and forthcoming Biblioasis translation series titles on this site, which is also accessible through the Biblioasis Press website.

We have also started a Translation series blog, which we hope can become a key resource for anyone interested in translation in Canada.  It will not be Biblioasis-title specific, but will cover translations from other presses as well, in addition to translation-related news, links, reviews, interviews, excerpts and general commentary.  We'll be bringing in a range of contributors for this blog from both inside and outside the press, so do check in from time to time to see what's new.

Forthcoming content over the next few weeks will include Sheila Fischman's short memoir 'A Life in Translation', an essay by Andrea Labinger on the translation of Liliana Heker's The End of the Story, Mike Barnes's fascinating 'A Spaceship from Across' (from the translation issue of CNQ), as well as contributions from Hugh Hazelton, Colin Carberry and many others.

We are also open to contributions from others: if interested, please email me at

This week's major offering is a talk by translation series editor Stephen Henighan, given at the University of Guelph October 27th, 2011.  Worth reading in its entirety, here is a taste:

On October 27, 2011 , writer Clark Blaise visited  the MacDonald-Stewart Art Gallery in Guelph, Ontario. As a nomadic bicultural author who has spent much of his life translating himself across boundaries (and who is also published by Biblioasis), Blaise provided an apt catalyst for talking about translation, and the Biblioasis International Translation Series.  Here's the talk I delivered at the time. 

                                            THE FALL OF TRANSLATION/ Stephen Henighan

Clark Blaise’s visit to Guelph is an ideal opportunity to talk about translation. There are at least two good reasons for this. The first is that although the translator’s word-by-word struggle is with the different ways in which languages carve up reality, the ultimate goal of literary translation is to carry one culture across a border while balancing it on your shoulders in a way that makes it visible to the culture on the other side of the frontier.   This is exactly what Clark Blaise does in  short stories such as “North,” “I’m Dreaming of Rocket Richard,” and dozens of others; one of the stories in his book Resident Alien is even called “Translation.”  Blaise’s short stories are full of characters who translate their names from Boisvert to Greenwood –  or from Blais to Blaise. 
The second reason to talk about translation today is that Mr. Blaise’s publisher, Biblioasis, is the home of the Biblioasis International Translation Series.
In 2006 Dan Wells asked me to help him set up and run a series of literary translations with an international flavour. Nobody had ever made a sustained attempt at doing anything like this in Canada.  Canadians were content to let New York and London and a few university presses in the U.S.  decide what got translated into English; to set the tone, the references and the language. This passivity was reinforced by the Canada Council. Where both the United Kingdom and the United States have granting agencies that fund incoming translations, the Canada Council funds English-French or French-English translations within Canada, but does not fund Canadian translations of writers from other countries. Nor does the publisher receive his usual grant to support book publication if the book’s author is not Canadian. In the absence of support for either translation or publication, and given the need to purchase English-language rights to the work from hard-nosed  literary agents in Frankfurt, the cost of publishing translations in Canada is inordinately high. It could be lowered by judicious policy making.  Yet in our desire to strengthen our culture, we have forgotten that in an era of accelerated globalization, strength flows not only from bolstering that which is ours, but also  from forging our own interpretations of the world. Committed to the idea that translations must come from the margins of linguistic cultures as well as from the power centres, the Biblioasis International Translation Series is dedicated to publishing world literature in English in Canada. We believe that translations are the lifeblood of literature, that a language that is not in touch with other linguistic traditions loses its creative vitality, and that the worldwide spread of English makes translation more urgent now than ever before.  
Above all, we were aware that there was a lot out there to translate because English is the most insular language in the world. From my own trans-linguistic reading, I was familiar with quantities of good writers whose works were available in half-a-dozen or more languages, yet not in English. Only Arabic-speaking cultures publish fewer translations than Anglophone societies, and the Arabs at least have the excuse that most of their citizens are poor and speak dialects as their mother tongues, which makes it difficult or impossible, without specialized training, for them to read the Classical Arabic in which books are published. English-speaking societies have no excuse for their disdain of the rest of the world’s literature. Many English-speaking countries are among the world’s most prosperous, most of our populations are reasonably well educated, and our literary language is only a heartbeat away from that spoken on the street.  Unfortunately, as the inheritors of the two empires that have dominated the world for the last two hundred years –Great Britain and the United States– speakers of English are infected with the bizarre notion, which prevails nowhere else on earth, that their mother tongue is all they need to know to understand the world.  Commentators invariably cite economics as the culprit for the paucity of translations in English, yet those same commentators tell us that in English-speaking countries economics is based on the market. If the market for translations in English is weak, this suggests the presence of certain innate characteristics in English-speaking culture, one of which is an ingrained disdain of foreigners and what passes for their culture.

For the rst of this talk please visit the blog here.  

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