Howard Scott







Rodica Draghincescu






I often feel I know the author more than I know my friends!





Rodica Draghincescu: – Dear Howard Scott, you are not only a very good translator of universal literature but also a rigorous and exemplary translator. How did you come to this passion, which became a profession?


Howard Scott: – I’ve always had a passion for languages, even before starting high school language courses. And when I moved to Quebec (I was born in Ontario in a very unilingual environment), I discovered the importance of translation.


RD: – Translation brings together at least two languages, two cultures, and often two eras. Translating implies mastery of the source language but also of the target language (the recipient), which is usually the mother tongue. How many languages do you master and what is your personal relationship to these languages?


HS: – I only speak two languages really, but I’m a language dilettante. I’ve studied German, I get by in Spanish after a few trips to Mexico. Over the years I’ve taken classes in Italian, Latin, Japanese, Chinese. I have Dutch-speaking friends and I’m trying to learn this language too, even translate it a little. I’ve dabbled in other languages: Portuguese, Greek, Swedish, Irish… I translate a young poet from Quebec, Natasha Kanapé Fontaine. She writes mainly in French, but also with occasional words and phrases in her native language, Innu (Innu-aimun or Montagnais is an Algonquian language spoken by over 10,000 Innu in Labrador and Quebec in Eastern Canada So I wanted to understand more of the language, and I even bought myself a grammar (a birthday present to myself).


RD: – Are there languages that are easier to translate than others? More in demand in the book market perhaps too?


HS: – Since Canada is an officially bilingual country, most translations here are between French and English. The federal government subsidizes translations by Canadian authors, which are mostly written in one of these two languages. (There is also aid for « international » translations, that is, into other languages.)

Yes, I think there are languages easier than others to translate. It is easier to go between two languages than are close in their vocabulary, grammar, culture (although you have to be careful about false friends). In Canada, cultural, social and political references are largely shared by both linguistic communities, so in a sense, translation is easier than, for example, translating a language like Japanese.



RD: – A good translator has language skills. At the same time, he must be able to analyze the text, to « reformulate » it while staying close to the author. Does a good translator also need writing skills?


HS: – Yes. It is often said that translation is the closest reading of a text, but you also need to rewrite it in the target language, you have to be a good reader and at the same time you have to be able to write well.


RD: – What other qualities are needed for a good literary translator?


HS: – In addition to having excellent language skills, you have to be able to put yourself in the shoes of the original author, disappear in a way behind the personality and style of the author. Authors are not always the best translators since they aren’t always able to write in the voice of another. However, I know some excellent translators who are also writers.



RD: – What literary genres (novel, poetry, drama, etc.) do you translate?


HS: – I translate novels and poetry, as well as essays. I’ve never done drama, which is a rather specialized field. I’ve also done a lot of commercial and administrative translation in the past, much less exciting, but I had to make a living.


RD: – What is your first author / translated book?


HS: – My first literary translation was a little poetry book, Antre, by the great Quebec poet Madeleine Gagnon (in English Lair, Coach House Press, 1989). Since I’ve translated other books by her, sometimes with my colleague Phyllis Aronoff, poetry, novels and essays.


RD: – What interests you in an author? Style, means of expression? the subject matter? The biography of the author?


HS: – I would say above all personality and style. The subject is also important, if the content is something at touches me personally, it’s easier to submerge myself in the text.



RD: – Concretely, how do you start a translation? How do you work with your publishers and authors, to ensure the success of a book?


HS: – I usually start with a quick draft, and after I go over the difficulties, do research, I polish. I always try to work with the author if possible, to ask questions, clarifications. Canadian writers often understand at least some English, so they are sometimes able to make useful comments. Then there is the editing stage with the publisher. A good editor will often make excellent suggestions, spot the rough patches in a manuscript.


RD: – During the act of translating, do you feel sometimes like the twin of the author? The friend? The judge? The lawyer? What reactions and emotions do you experience in translating this or that writer?


HS: – Yes, « twin » is an excellent image. We really get into the head of the author, we share the reactions and emotions, and I often feel I know the author more than I know my friends.


RD: – What is the most stimulating in your work?



HS: – Living in the minds of brilliant authors.


RD: – What difficulties do you encounter most often in your work?


HS: – Often the biggest challenge is to find publishers for projects that are important to me.



RD: – Howard, you are one of the most important translators in Quebec. You have won several awards for your translations, including the important 1997 Governor General’s Literary Award. Tell us more about this award, please.


HS: – I have the honor to be among the large number of literary translators who have won that this award. The Governor General’s Literary Awards recognize Canadian literary works in various genres (7 categories and 2 languages) each year. What is great with these awards is that the literary translation is recognized as a literary genre just like fiction, poetry, etc.



RD: – Let’s talk about Canadian translators. According to you, can they live from their pens?


HS: – Very few literary translators in Canada manage to live by their pens. Most of us have another profession, teacher, general translator, etc.


RD: – In Europe, there are more and more, « schools of translators, » courses in translation, interpreting and translation studies, offered by institutions with a cultural profile, especially in the Eastern countries but as well in Germany, with very useful programs. Is literary translation taught in the same way in Canada?


HS: – Literary translation is taught at a few universities in Canada, and there is a Canadian Association of Translation Studies that brings together professors working in this field. We also have the Banff International Literary Translation Centre, a three-week residency each year for literary translators either from the Americas translating literature from anywhere in the world, or translators from anywhere in the world translating literature from the Americas.



RD: – How important are you to get-togethers and events specific to the translation community?


HS: – Literary translation is mostly done in isolation, so it’s important to have contact with other translators, in conferences, literary festivals, readings, informal meetings. More and more nowadays exchanges take place through social media. I now have translator friends all over the world.



RD: – Do you participate in the promotion of your own authors? Do you lobby for them?


HS: – Yes, sometimes with public readings. Maybe not enough. Promotion is usually done by or with the publisher. Many small literary publishers do little to sell their books, but others do excellent marketing.


RD: – What are you working on right now? If you have to make a recommendation to one of your youngest authors, in just 10 words, to convince a good publisher, what would you say?


HS: – I just finished the translation of Blue and Apricots by Natasha Kanapé Fontaine. I can’t wait to start translating her latest collection Nanimissuat. Île tonnerre. Currently I am working with Phyllis Aronoff on a rather unusual book, written by a neonatal pediatrician who herself had a very premature child, so mostly a very personal testimony, with some medical aspects.



RD: – Dear Howard, thank you for answering my questions.



Translation: Howard Scott (Montréal)













Howard Scott has translated works by Canadian poets such as Madeleine Gagnon, Michel Pleau, and Innu poet Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, as well as translating novels and non-fiction. In 1997, he won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English translation for The Euguelion, by Louky Bersianik, and he and co-translator Phyllis Aronoff won the Quebec Writers’ Federation Translation Award in 2001. He was finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2017 for Social Myths and Collective Imaginaries by Gérard Bouchard.


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