English prof launches new translation studies series

picture of colourful painted artwork

Cultures meet here in Canada, says Agnès Whitfield. Literary translation is an essential means of sharing heritages, yet it is a field too often overlooked and undervalued.

That situation is about to improve with the launch of the first volume in a new series called Vita Traductiva. A joint initiative of the Research Group on Literary Translation in Canada at York University and Les Éditions québécoises de l’oeuvre, a small Quebec press Whitfield and her husband, artist Daniel Gagnon, have taken over, the series will be published in French and English, and focus on literary translators and translating around the world.

Cover illustration for Vita Traductiva, by Daniel Gagnon

Cover illustration for Vita Traductiva, by Daniel Gagnon

“One of our goals is to bring into English or French important studies on translation from other languages,” says Whitfield. “These kinds of opportunities for international exchange are sadly lacking.”

“Another issue for translation scholars is getting research circulating quickly,” says Whitfield. “Traditional presses have long wait times, library budgets are declining and scholarly books are expensive.”

Agnès WhitfieldFor this reason, the international peer-reviewed series will be published via the Internet on Open Access sites for scholars, as well as in traditional book form.

Agnès Whitfield

These days, “if a librarian in Canada wanted to organize an exhibition on Romanian culture, she would have a difficult time,” says Whitfield. She wouldn’t know where to find Romanian works translated into English or French, or works written by Canadian writers of Romanian origin, or how the translations were done.

On a broader level, the new series is important because “literature provides a rich source of knowledge about human activity and aspirations, and literary translation plays an essential role in building understanding between communities with different languages and cultures,” argues Whitfield. “Vita Traductiva aims to make an important contribution to the creation, promotion and dissemination of such vital cultural knowledge.”

Following her 2009 study, Whitfield helped found Voice in Translation, an international research group based at the University of Oslo, focusing on the different voices in the translation process. Those voices will be expressed in Vita Traductiva.

The name is a reference to the Latin term vita activa (active life) to reflect the active, empirical orientation of the collection and its aim to generate and share more knowledge about translation – particularly between smaller countries – and greater intercultural understanding and respect, says Whitfield.

As series editor, she plans to solicit essays on literary translation and translators from scholars all over the world. Such international reach will be guaranteed with editorial and advisory boards representing 15 countries – from Finland to New Zealand, Portugal to Turkey. Whitfield also draws on York expertise; English Professor Priscila Uppal and humanities and translation studies Professor Susan Ingram are on her editorial and advisory boards.

The first volume of essays will appear this summer and two more in the fall.

The summer volume will focus on the translation of Polish, Czech and Romanian literature for Canadian audiences – and vice versa – and how to find works by Canadians of Polish, Czech and Romanian heritage.

The fall volumes, edited by European colleagues, are based on proceedings of recent Voice in Translation conferences. The first highlights the challenges of capturing narrative voice when translating between Arabic, Polish, Whitfield with Voice in Translation group in Copenhagen English, Finnish, German, Spanish and French.

Whitfield with Voice in Translation group in Copenhagen

The second will probe the role of authorial and editorial voices in translation. It will include a piece by Whitfield on how small Canadian English presses edit and revise translations.

As a new international peer-reviewed publication series, Vita Traductiva is a perfect fit with York’s strategic goal to improve its participation in emerging international research networks and enhance its reputation as a research-oriented university, says Whitfield.

She has played a leading role in compiling previously unavailable bio-bibliographical data on eminent Canadian Francophone and Anglophone literary translators as editor of Writing Between the Lines. Portraits of Canadian Anglophone Translators (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006) and Le Métier du double. Portraits de traducteurs et traductrices francophones (Fides, Collection du CRILCQ, 2005), shortlisted for the Canadian Federation of the Humanities Raymond-Klibansky Prize. (See YFile, April 11, 2006) She was also the editor of L’écho de nos classiques (Éditions David, 2009) on the international translations of two great Canadian novels, Gabrielle Roy’s Bonheur d’occasion (The Tin Flute) and Hugh McLennan’s Two Solitudes.

Whitfield is former president of the Canadian Association for Translation Studies and was bilingual joint chair in Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University in 2009-2010.