Sheila Fischman

Sheila Fischman, translator (born at Moose Jaw, SK 1 Dec 1937). Born in Saskatchewan, Sheila Fischman's family moved 2 years later to run the general store in Elgin, Ontario, where they were the only JEWISH family in the small town until they moved to Toronto. It was there Sheila Fischman began speaking the FRENCH LANGUAGE in a grade 9 classroom. By her final year of high school Fischman realized French was a language "to live in." At the UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO she majored in chemistry and anthropology while continuing French, earning a Masters degree in anthropology. She worked at the CBC and University of Toronto Press, then as a columnist and reviewer for the GLOBE AND MAIL and the MONTREAL GAZETTE. She later served as literary editor for the Montreal Star.

After marrying Canadian poet D.G. JONES in 1969, Sheila Fischman settled in North Hatley, in Quebec's eastern townships, a village with two distinct and distinctly separate groups of artists: English and French. The setting proved pivotal to Fischman's career: here, she would learn "living French." Reading the new French literature by day while gathering English and French writers and poets into her home by night, Fischman heard their stories, verse and sometimes heated exchanges. She began to see that with two languages, she might break down the barriers existing between the artists so their stories could be shared by all. Everything in her life had lead to this: her own understanding of difference as a solitary Jewish girl in a small town classroom, her study of cultures and identity in anthropology, and her love of language and stories.

As an exercise to hone her literary French, Fischman translated a short story, "L'Oiseau," from the 1964 collection Jolis Deuils, by her neighbour, Roch CARRIER. He approved it, and suggested Fischman translate his new novel LA GUERRE, YES SIR!, a seminal work about French Canadian attitudes to Canadian wartime conscription. Dictionaries, friends and colleagues helped, but progress was slow until Fischman realized she needed a course in French cursing and Catholic liturgical expressions, which Carrier provided. In 1970 the new HOUSE OF ANANSI Press in Toronto accepted the TRANSLATION.

In late 1969 Sheila Fischman and D.G. Jones founded the literary review ellipse, translating French and English poetry and prose by contemporary Quebec writers to give their voices a national audience. Still in print today, a famous early issue conceived by Fischman was dedicated to exploring the 1970 OCTOBER CRISIS through the writing of Quebec's new literary voices. It remains an important record of the period.

Her marriage ending, Fischman moved to Montreal and in 1972 began the Literary Translators' Association of Canada in order to raise the profile of translators as artists. Her growing stature allowed her to promote the new generation of French writers who were creating in exciting and fresh voices, including Michel TREMBLAY, Jacques POULIN, Anne HÉBERT, François Gravel and Marie-Claire BLAIS. Fischman knew English Canada needed their voices.

While Sheila Fischman grants that translation acts as a bridge between cultures, she believes that translation is essentially about sharing: "Translation matters to a country. It's the sharing.... We need to know each others' stories." For Fischman, the translator is "necessarily invisible" and the art of translation means serving the author's creative efforts and expressing ideas, images and characters with the same artistic exactness achieved by the author.

Sheila Fischman holds honourary doctorates from the UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO and the UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA. Shortlisted many times for the GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD for Translation, she won in 1998. Twice she has won both the CANADA COUNCIL Translation Prize and the Félix-Antoine Savard Award from Columbia University in New York. She was named to the ORDER OF CANADA in 2000 and the NATIONAL ORDER OF QUEBEC in 2008. Having translated over 125 books, Sheila Fischman won the coveted MOLSON PRIZE for her contributions to Canadian culture in 2008. She continues to live in Montreal.