This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with people who are closely involved with Quebec literature on a daily basis as we continue to talk to publishers, readers, bookstore owners, and translators to get a feel for today’s publishing scene in Quebec.
Marc Charron is associate professor at the School of Translation and Interpretation (STI) of the University of Ottawa, where he teaches literary translation from Spanish and English into French, among other subjects. He is co-director of the Literary Translation Series at the University of Ottawa Press. As a literary translator, he has published short stories by Hong Kong-American writer Xu Xi and American writer Yannick Murphy, and has co-translated Indo-Canadian writer Ahmad Saidullah’s collection of short stories Happiness and Other Disorders (Key Porter, 2008) and co-edited the French collaborative translation of Paul Glennon’s novel The Dodecahedron or A Frame for Frames (Porcupine’s Quill, 2005), both for the University of Ottawa Press. He has just finished translating Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon, 2016) for Montreal publisher Mémoire d’encrier. The book is scheduled to come out in the fall of 2017.
What are you reading at the minute?
Right now, too much academic stuff. But the first thing on my list of summer reads is Christian Guay-Poliquin’s Le poids de la neige, published last fall by La Peuplade. I am equally curious to read Sophie Bienvenu’s Autour d’elle (Cheval d’août, 2016), which also came out last fall.
Is there anything you’re especially looking forward to reading this year?
I am very much looking forward to the reissue, in the next few weeks/months, of Karoline Georges’ Ataraxie by Alto (the work was originally published by L’Effet poupre in 2004). Its writing has been referred to as “scalpel-like”. I am eager to see what it is all about.
What is your relationship to Quebec writing?
Each year, I teach with my colleague Luise von Flotow a graduate literary translation workshop at the STI. We tend to focus mainly on contemporary English-Canadian and Québécois literature, and every week we work on a short story into English and one into French. I try to keep abreast of the new publications in both English Canada and Quebec, especially as far as short fiction goes (i.e. texts that are doable in the context of a three-hour class).
Five or six years ago, I honestly had a hard time finding what I considered to be interesting, innovative, challenging texts from French Quebec for students to translate into English. I believe this has changed in the past few years: Quebec writing is for one much freer, more original and somehow more mature now than what it was even just recently.
What, if anything, would you say defines Quebec literature?
At the risk of saying something contentious, I would have to admit that two words come to mind: schizophrenic and melancholic. Surely not very positive terms, but then good literature is seldom about sanity and happiness, right?
If you were to recommend that someone who has never read anything from Quebec pick up a book and start reading it today, which book would it be?
One of Hubert Aquin’s novels of the 1960s (more specifically Prochain Épisode or Trou de mémoire). Among more recent books (i.e. not yet deemed a “classic”), I would have to go with Raymond Bock’s first publication, Atavismes, published in 2011 by Le Quartanier. It should be noted that it is a book not of short stories (or “nouvelles”), but of stories (or “histoires”). The distinction might be subtle, yet it tells us something, I think, about Québécois literature, one which is perhaps more racontée than rapportée). Also, it illustrates, even embodies both where Québécois literature comes from and where it is (hopefully) headed.