Interview with Oana Avasilichioaei

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.

Oana Avasilichioaei’s practice is concerned with textuality, polylingual poetics, the social and political forces/voices of the polis, and the intermediary spaces between word, sound, and image, exploring the transgressions of these terrains through poetry, translation, performance, and sound work. Her five poetry collections include We, Beasts (Wolsak & Wynn 2012, winner of the A. M. Klein Prize for Poetry) and Limbinal (Talonbooks 2015), a hybrid, multi-genre poetic work on notions of borders. She has also published seven translations of poetry and prose from French and Romanian, most recently Bertrand Laverdure’s Readopolis (BookThug, 2017), which won the 2017 Governor General Literary Award.

PETINF14-QuebecReads-Favicon-32x32What are you reading/translating at the minute?

I am currently translating Catherine Lalonde’s La dévoration des fées (Le Quartanier, 2017), which will be published in the fall of 2018 (by BookThug) as The Faerie Devouring. A modern-day fable and mythic bildungsroman, it tells the story of a young girl raised by her grandmother (a stalwart matriarch and wicked fairy godmother) following her mother’s death during childbirth. The story is rife with song, myth, phantasmagoria, spells, desire, ferocious poetic telling, wild imagination, and unruly language.


Is there anything you’re especially looking forward to reading this year?

I’ve been dipping in and out of Espaces de savoir (Presses de l’Université Laval, 2016), a very interesting collection of writing by five authors on spaces/environments that shape thought.


What is your relationship to Quebec writing? Can you talk a little about the challenges of translating Quebec literature and a novel like Lectodôme in particular?

Because I live, write and translate in Quebec, I feel I am part of the writing that is created here, though at the same time also slightly to the side of it since I write mainly in English (although it is an English much striated and affected by the structures, syntax, and vocabularies of French, as well as other languages).

Some of the challenges of translating Quebec literature (though this applies to translating other literatures as well) include finding ways to account for the specificities and local uses of the language (idiomatic expressions are particularly challenging, for instance), to call up the various histories and cultural trends that may be underpinning the writing, and to reinvent the English at least a little bit each time so that the impact of these aspects comes through.

One of the most challenging (and intriguing) aspects of translating Lectodôme (Readopolis in English) in particular was thinking of how to create and reinvent all the various voices/genres of the book in English. The inserted dystopian novella, for example, is written in a very different mode (fast-moving almost telegraphic writing) than the inserted screenplay (dialogue form, some of which combines French and English, word play, etc.). The novella also has a fair number of neologisms and I always have a lot of fun coming up with those in English.


What, if anything, would you say defines Quebec literature?

I tend not to like coming up with these sort of generalizations, because any literature is always multiform, heterogeneous, polyphonic. Though one layer that I do really appreciate about Quebec literature (which is not omnipresent but which does recur) is the presence of a social engagement, a politicizing of the subject, voice, language through the material of language at a kind of ground roots level.

PETINF14-QuebecReads-Favicon-32x32And finally, 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?

The book I am currently translating, Catherine Lalonde’s The Faerie Devouring, is in fact a good example of a work that is deeply and thoroughly Québécois (in its language and flavour) and wildly imaginative and surprising. Another old favourite which I highly recommend (but which does not yet exist in English translation) is the epic La canicule des pauvres by Jean-Simon DesRochers (Les Herbes rouges, 2014).


Photo credit: Monique de St. Croix