Pre-eminent literary scholar Prof. Barbara Godard influenced many fields of study

Professor Emerita Barbara Godard, the Avie Bennett Historica Chair in Canadian Literature, died Sunday, May 16, from complications related to her illness, at Toronto Western Hospital surrounded by family. Funeral arrangements for Friday are noted at the bottom of this page.

Here, York humanities Professor Jody Berland, English Professor Julia Creet and PhD student Elena Basile offer an appreciation of Prof. Godard and her tireless work.

It is with great sadness that the Department of English at York University announces the death of Professor Emerita Barbara Godard, a professor of English, French, social & political thought and women’s studies. A pillar of the York community and one of Canada’s pre-eminent literary scholars, Prof. Godard broadly influenced the fields of Canadian and Quebec studies, translation studies, feminist poetics, semiotics and cultural studies.

Right: Prof. Barbara Godard

She was a generous supervisor and mentor who trained and influenced a contemporary generation of cultural workers, including academics, writers and artists. The scope of her mentorship was fully recognized in 2002 when she became the recipient of teaching awards from York University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies and the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools. Prof. Godard retired from full-time teaching in 2008, but continued a full intellectual and pedagogical life until her sudden passing. 

Prof. Godard was a prolific and influential intellectual. An extraordinarily sharp and encyclopedic thinker, Prof. Godard’s interests encompassed semiotics, translation, gender, textuality and the body, as well as archives, memorials, and the history and changing politics of cultural production. With a keen eye for detail and a unique capacity for breadth of vision, she catalyzed interdisciplinary connections among culture, language, gender, politics, poetics and meaning.

After completing her doctorate at the University of Bordeaux, Prof. Godard began teaching at York in 1971 as a visiting assistant professor and was hired into a tenure-track position in 1976. She published eight books, 80 book chapters and 115 articles and catalogue entries. She translated the major writers of Quebec feminism, including Nicole Brossard, Yolande Villemarie and Louky Bersianik. She also served as editor or on the editorial board of no less than 22 journals. She was a founding co-editor of the feminist literary periodical Tessera, a contributing editor of Open Letter and The Semiotic Review of Books, and the book review editor for Topia: A Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies. She also made long-standing contributions to Resources for Feminist Research, Voix et Images and ECW among others.

Prof. Godard was committed to and passionate about her graduate students across the Departments of English, French Studies, Film and Visual Arts, the School of Women’s Studies and the Program in Social & Political Thought, supervising over 35 PhD candidates. She built bridges between people and modes of inquiry because of her genuine enthusiasm for ideas. She worked between and across languages which so often divide. Prof. Godard inspired her colleagues and students through her critical creativity and her unwavering commitment to interrogating and producing the conditions for full civic engagement in the University and in the public sphere. We will miss her greatly.

Funeral arrangements:

A funeral service will take place at 11am on Friday, May 21, at St. James-the-Less, 635 Parliament St., Toronto. A reception for friends and family will follow at Prof. Godard’s house at 217 Major St.,Toronto.

Prof. Godard’s family has requested no flowers; in light of her earlier struggles, donations to the Canadian Cancer Society would be greatly appreciated.