Recently-retired Concordia Professor Judith Weisz Woodsworth nominated for a GG’s Award

GG award

Judith Weisz Woodsworth has made a career out of translation. She started off translating texts for the Canadian government. From there, she embarked upon a lengthy career teaching translation at Concordia University, a position she has recently retired from. She also endeavoured into the field of literary translation, doing that task on two local novels.

However, her first work of translating a nonfiction book, renown Quebec historian Pierre Anctil’s 2018 book History of the Jews in Quebec from its original French text into English, resulted in earning her a nomination this year for the prestigious Governor-General’s (GG’s) Literary Awards in the translation (French to English) category.

“This is my first time being nominated for the GG’s and I’m really excited about it,” said Ms. Woodsworth during a recent phone interview. “I have been working in translation all my life, and I am grateful to the Canada Council for recognizing translation work here in Canada. Not all countries do that, and unfortunately, translation, especially the literary quality of translation, is left in the shadows.”

Born and raised in Winnipeg, she was aware of her Jewish culture and traditions in her hometown.  But when she first met Mr. Anctil and heard about his book in 2018, she knew it was a book that she would very much want to translate into English. “I first saw him at a talk he gave at Concordia about translating and the Yiddish language. He said that Yiddish was dying out, which was unfortunate to him, because he believed Yiddish was a language that was associated with hope, expectations and a rich culture,” she said. “When it won the J.I. Segal Award for best book, he spoke about the book with so much passion, that I immediately afterwards bought a copy and after reading it, I knew that I wanted to have it translated and make it available to English language readers.”

She then spoke to Mr. Anctil and told him how great his book was and together they set out to find a publisher that was willing to have it translated and published in English; the University of Ottawa Press eventually agreed to it.

“Pierre’s books has a literary quality to what he writes about; its tone is quite lyrical, as if it is a novel,” she said. “One good example in the book is his description of the Montreal office of the bilingual Jewish newspaper Der Keneder Adler (or the Canada Eagle). He brilliantly captures the tone of the newsroom and the voices of the people there, which was more than just a newspaper newsroom. The editor and its staff were also there to solve social or financial problems of anyone who dropped by the office.”

Ms. Woodworth began translating the book in 2019 and when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out the following year, it became her “pandemic project”. In total, it took her an entire year to complete the task.

As well, that task of translating a work of nonfiction almost echoes that of working on a newspaper article. “You have to correctly translate French terms into English, correct the spelling, check the facts, footnotes and quotes and if necessary, do some extra research to maintain the text’s accuracy,” she said. “One good example was a passage in the book that stated (former Quebec Premier) Rene Levesque delivered a speech to the Canadian Jewish Congress on a certain day in May. I decided to look it up and found out that the speech actually took place in April.”

Since her retirement from Concordia, Ms. Woodsworth has been busy in her side career as a literary translator. The University of Ottawa Press has given her another book to translate, and she is currently translating a novel for the Montreal-based publisher Linda Leith Publishing, and there will be probably more translation jobs in the future as a result of her GG’s nomination.

“This has been fabulous,” she said. “The nomination came as a surprise to me; I wasn’t expecting it. Usually the prize in that category is given to a work of fiction!”

The English language edition of Pierre Anctil’s book History of the Jews in Quebec, translated by Judith Weisz Woodsworth, is now available in hardcover and paperback by the University of Ottawa Press, and can be purchased through www.amazon.ca. The winners of the 2022 Governor-General’s Literary Awards will be announced on November 16. For more information about the awards and this year’s nominees, go to www.ggbooks.ca.

Stuart Nulman
By: Stuart Nulman – [email protected]

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