A History of the Coach House Press Quebec Translations
This paper was presented at the annual conference of the Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures in Montreal on June 1st, 1995.
The Coach House Press Quebec Translations series was begun by Barbara Godard and myself in 1974 and continued for fifteen years, although our editorship of it ended in 1986. The series published twelve listed titles between 1975 and 1989, beginning with Victor-Lévy Beaulieu's Jack Kerouac: A Chicken Essay and ending with Nicole Brossard's Surfaces of Sense. Barbara and I produced two other Quebec translations titles for Coach House during this period, but for promotional reasons these were not listed by the press as part of the series: Nicole Brossard's bilingual anthology of 1970s Quebec writing, Les Stratégies du Réel in 1979, and the collectively written drama A Clash of Symbols (originally La Nef des sorcières) in 1980. Two titles were listed as part of the series after our resignations in 1986: Dany Laferrière's How to Make Love to a Negro, in 1987, and Nicole Brossard's Surfaces of Sense in 1989.
Coach House Press had been founded in 1965 as a small press that focussed on poetry and experimental prose by emerging writers, published irregularly, in a variety of non-standard formats, and sold its books mostly by mail-order and in small bookstores. Among its early publications were The LSD Leacock by Joe Rosenblatt (1966), Baseball by George Bowering (in a triangular 'pennant' format, 1967), The Dainty Monsters by Michael Ondaatje (his first book, 1967), bp by bpNichol (a box that contained a 56-page book, an 8" recording of sound poetry, and various poems on loose sheets, 1967), the series of miniature Snore Comix (1969-70, with some issues sealed in plastic bags), the collaborative visual-verbal fiction The Great Canadian Sonnet by painter Greg Curnoe and poet David McFadden (1970), and painter Roy Kiyooka's photo book StoneD Gloves (1970). Some of these early books had been published independently, others had been subsidized by the Trudeau-era Local Initiatives Program (LIP) and Opportunities for Youth (OFY) program, or by Canada Council "titles grants". Early in the 1970s the press had begun receiving stable subsidy through the Canada Council "block grants" program -- subsidy which brought with it certain standardizing regulations such as a minimum 48-page definition of a book.
In 1974 both Coach House and the institutional and technological contexts of Canadian book publishing were in some uncertainty. Coach House's owner, printer Stan Bevington, had been moving its printing operations rapidly from linotype to computer-driven laser typesetting. In 1973-74 he had made a difficult transition from driving his new laser printer with key-punch cards and paper tapes to driving it from 8" diskettes and the line-editors of three 32 kilobyte business computers. Poet Victor Coleman, Coach House's main literary editor in the 1965-74 period, had resigned to protest this computerization. Bevington had quickly formed an editorial board to replace him, mostly from among the writers the press had published; this board, whose first books appeared in 1975, consisted of myself, my wife Linda, Michael Ondaatje, bpNichol, David Young, artist/designer RickSimon, art historian Dennis Reid, and playwright Martin Kinch. Outside the press, in the general economy of small press publishing, there were changes from the ad hoc funding of LIP, OFY, and Canada Council titles grants -- and from the eccentricity and instability that accompanied this kind of funding -- to more stable and regularized funding. The Publications Section of the Canada Council was slowly refining and targetting its programs; in 1972, carrying into practice some of the implications of the 1969 Official Languages Act, it had begun a program to fund the translation of Canadian writing from French or English into the other language; by 1973 it had opened its block grant program, which did not require advance scrutiny by the Council of individual titles, to most of the established small literary presses.
For Coach House Press these various changes created considerable openness to new projects. The new board was unsure whether or not it would be able to attract manuscripts as easily as had Coleman; it believed it needed to build up credibility with the Canada Council in order to win the largest possible annual block grant; it was also interested in broadening the range of its lists while keeping within the mandate it believed it had inherited from Coleman of publishing mainly work of interest to writers and artists. It also viewed the press's new computer technology as making it easier to produce large books of prose: 69 of the 87 titles it had published in the 1966-73 period had been poetry or visual books; 23 of these had been of 36 or fewer pages.
For those interested in widening the circulation of francophone Canadian writing, this period was also one of institutional change and opportunity, as well as one in which Quebec and its culture figured prominently, and for the most part favourably, in anglophone-Canadian political and cultural debates. The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism of 1963-71 and the 1969 Official Languages Act, together with the nationalist unrest and violence in Quebec in the 1960s and the concurrent public fascination with the 'charismatic' Pierre Trudeau, had created both a widespread curiosity about Quebec and, among many anglophone intellectuals at least, a desire to build or assert stronger links with it. The Canada Council translation program was only one of many attempts at the time to institutionalize cultural connections between anglophone and francophone Canadians, and to construct Canada meaningfully as a bilingual and bicultural nation. The initiators of most of these projects were anglophones. The Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures was founded in 1973-74; the Laurentian University Review/Revue de l'Université Laurentienne in 1968, Ellipse, a journal of English- and French-Canadian writing in translation, in 1969, Parallélogramme, the journal of the Association of National Non-Profit Artist Centres, in 1976, and The Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory/Revue canadienne de théorie politique et sociale in 1977.
A frequently important element in the anglophone desire for connection with Quebec was a romantic view of its francophone culture as more passionate, violent, and creative than much of anglophone culture -- not only an FLQ Quebec where nationalists paraded with flags, planted bombs, kidnapped officials, and exploded themselves in parliamentary washrooms, but also a Gilles Vigneault-Pauline Julien Quebec where people were believed to care deeply about poetry, culture, and collective creativity. Among the more prominent reflections of this view was Leonard Cohen's 1969 novel Beautiful Losers, with its two francophone nationalist 'orphan' narrators, Hugh Hood's 1969 short story collection, Around the Mountain, and Ronald Sutherland's 1970 critical study Second Image, with its opening figure of Quebec as a young, flamboyant female dancer, and its argument that the only "mainstream" Canadian literature was writing that acknowledged both its official-language cultures. In anglophone-Canadian popular culture there was a similar sense of romantic relation with Quebec, at least in the years between the Centennial and the 1980 referendum, and a fascination with it as an enviable site of libidinal excess. From Expo 67 and exploding mailboxes through the Sir George Williams computer-centre riot, de Gaulle's visit, Trudeau's marriage, the War Measures Act, to the theatre of the referendum night, Quebec was English-Canada's new wild west, its cultural frontier, its seemingly inexhaustible source of spectacle. (English-Canadians in 1970 watched televised images of the Cross kidnappers' old Chrysler making its way through east-end Montreal with at least as much fascination as those of 1994 watched images of O.J. Simpson's Ford Bronco.) English-Canada's fascination with Quebec, which included considerable voyeurism, was effective in creating support for government funding of bilingual services, of French immersion programs in the public schools, of student exchange programs, and of programs like the Canada Council one for literary translation.
More than ever before Quebec cultural codes were becoming recognizable to English-Canadian artists, who were themselves more widely cosmopolitan than earlier generations. Dennis Lee delivered his nationalist essay "Cadence, Country, Silence" to the 1972 Rencontre québécoise internationale des Ecrivains, and first published it in Liberté. bpNichol read his sound poetry soon after in Montreal on the same program as Quebec sound poet Raoul Duguay, and found the latter's work instantly intelligible because of their sharing of international reference points. Victor-Lévy Beaulieu's fiction was readable by George Bowering because their common interest in Kerouac and Melville; that of Nicole Brossard and Roger Magini was recognizable to Bowering and others because they had read Robbe-Grillet, Saurraute, and Sollers or at least seen Last Year at Marienbad. One of the ironies of Michèle Lalonde's Speak White! was that its discourse was instantly intelligible to any English-Canadian who had read Allen Ginsberg or Lawrence Ferlinghetti -- it did, in effect, speak white. This intelligibility in turn nourished the curiosity about Quebec writing in writers like Coach House editors Nichol and Michael Ondaatje and Coach House authors Bowering and Fred Wah, a curiosity that underpinned the series by recurrently affirming to others at Coach House Press that the translations were valued.
An interested spectator to the 1973-74 editorial reorganization at Coach House, and to its ongoing transformation from a publisher with an irregular publication schedule and unpredictable finances to one with spring and fall lists and assured annual Canada Council funding, was my friend and colleague at York University, Barbara Godard. In 1972 she had gathered and translated for publication in my journal Open Letter, of which had Nichol, Coleman, and Bowering were active contributing editors, essays on poetics by Paul Chamberland, Raoul Duguay, Michèle Lalonde, and Jacques Brault. In early 1973 she had declined an offer to be the first translations officer for the new Canada Council program, but had continued closely tracking its development. She believed it likely, given the limited number of anglophone-Canadian publishers that published Quebec writing in translation, that the new program would have much more money to spend than publishers would request. She also realized, as did the new Coach House editors, that it would not be easy for Coach House to find the right kind and quality of manuscripts to continue and extend the publication program Victor Coleman had developed: in 1973 Coach House had had its most productive year to date, publishing 17 titles, including ones by Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley, whereas before 1971 it had published an average of 7 titles a year. Coleman's leaving had been somewhat acrimonious, and there were rumours in the Toronto literary community that writers loyal to him would not submit manuscripts, and that the new editorial board would mark the end of Coach House as an adventurous publisher. Knowing that some of the editors had tenuous connections with Quebec writing (bpNichol had published a reciprocal "interview" with Duguay in the fall 1973 issue of Open Letter; Paul Chamberland had stayed for a week with my wife and me in early 1974 while Writer-in-Residence at Toronto's Etienne Brulé Collegiate), Barbara suggested to me that the press undertake a series of translations of new Quebec writing, predominantly fiction, that reflected political and artistic concerns similar to those of writers whom Coach House was already publishing.
This was probably a much more challenging proposal to the press than Barbara had realized. None of the books previously published by Coach House had involved contracts between publisher and author. Both Bevington and Coleman had a 1960s counter-culture suspicion, not entirely unfounded, of lawyers and contracts as instruments of capitalist oppression. Coleman's 1967 book from Coach House had included the copyright notice, "Any part of this book may be reproduced by anyone whose intention is not financial gain," with the addendum, "Printed in Canada by mindless acid freaks." Coach House authors usually received, in lieu of a written contract, oral assurances of up to 10% of the press run in author's copies, and of continuing "warehouse privileges" which enabled them to bring friends by for free books and to send strange gifts to relatives at Christmas. A standing argument at the press against more formal royalty arrangements was that these would require the expense and effort of keeping sales records and monitoring of inventory, and would in addition reflect the untrusting business practices of capitalism. At the board's first editorial meetings my wife, who was studying law, had begun pointing out, without much effect, how the current arrangements gave the press no assured rights to be able to continue publishing the titles it had already published, and very little control over, or knowledge about, its inventory. The translation series Barbara was proposing would require contracts with publishers who believed in copyright, and who would expect to receive accurate royalty statements and sales reports.
However, the prospect that the press might be able to publish young Quebec writers who might not be all that dissimilar from themselves intrigued the new editors, and seemed to promise as well even better relations with the Canada Council, which the editors believed was likely to favour with enlarged block grants presses that participated in its new programs. On my representations Barbara's proposal was approved. She and I would co-edit the series, although she would not be formally a Coach House editor. Concurrently, the new board was working out how its members would operate, beginning a debate that would be re-opened periodically and that would eventually bring the translation series to an end. The happy solution, for both the editors and the series, was that each of the eight editors would have unrestricted power to solicit and publish two titles a year. The editors would collectively choose up to three unsolicited manuscripts to publish in a year, and assign these to individual editors to edit above their two-manuscript entitlement. Editors unable to find two manuscripts they wished to publish could assign these entitlements to other members of the board. The translation series would operate as an addition to this system of editorial entitlements. The result was that Barbara and I had relatively unrestricted editorial freedom with the new series, provided we could get Canada Council translation grants for each title, and provided the board remained happy with the series.
Our work on the series began with a detailed verbal proposal from Barbara that she would seek out possible texts, by surveying book reviews in Le Devoir and Lettres québécoises, looking there for signs of experimental fiction, one of which was the ire of conservative reviewers at non-realistic writing, or for indications that it resembled in playfulness or in attention to the materiality of signification the kinds of writing that Coach House was best known for. Her insistence that our series should focus on fiction was based on her conviction that anglophone-Canadian fiction was in 1973 formally much more conservative than its poetry, and might benefit from exposure to some more adventurous Quebecois contemporaries. She would locate and read possible titles and pass them on to me. It became gradually evident to us that many of the writers that interested us were women, and that many had been published by Les Herbes rouges or La Barre du jour: among these Nicole Brossard, Geneviève Amyot, France Théoret, Yolande Villemaire, Roger des Roches, Madeleine Ouelette-Michalska, Antonine Maillet, Roger Magini, Michel Beaulieu, Normand de Bellefeuille, Victor-Lévy Beaulieu, Paul Chamberland, and Raoul Duguay. As our list of possible titles grew, it also became evident that, because most of the writers had not been translated before, one problem was going to be an absence of translators who had experience or even an interest in translating them. We wasted some time in our first year attempting to get inexperienced translators approved by the Canada Council, time which we shouldn't have been wasting because of course the contracts for translation rights we were concurrently obtaining all contained publication deadlines.
The first five titles we pursued were Beaulieu's Jack Kerouac: essai-poulet, Magini's Entre corneilles et indiens, Brossard's Un Livre and Sold-out, and Maillet's Don l'Orignal. Several months after we wrote to Lémeac about the rights to the latter, however, which Barbara hoped to translate herself, Lémeac sold them in a package lot to Clarke Irwin, which we then discovered had no intention of ever publishing a translation. Lémeac had neither answered our letters nor responded to a week of daily telephone calls by Barbara. This was our initiation to high-powered publishing: in the context of their big transaction, neither publisher appeared to care about this particular title and whether it was ever translated. Barbara, however, eventually argued and/or shamed Clarke Irwin into publishing her translation. All of our contract negotiations for English-language rights were perilous because of the Quebec publisher's expectations that we would provide a sizeable royalty advance -- perhaps $3000-5,000. Most, except Beaulieu at Editions de l'Aurore, had no idea that Coach House had never in its history paid a royalty advance, or that it had difficulty some months raising money for ink and paper. Barbara and I would try to negotiate the amount down to $200-300, and then I would have to struggle to sell the deal to my shocked fellow editors.
However, our negotiations with smaller publishers like Editions du jour or Editions de l'Aurore were usually satisfactory. We published the Beaulieu Jack Kerouac, an obvious fit with the Ginsberg and Bowering books already on Coach House lists, and which was translated quickly and professionally for us by Sheila Fischman (who had earlier translated Beaulieu's Don Quichotte de la Démanche), in the fall of 1975, and the Magini Between Crows and Indians, translated by Marc Plourde, and Brossard A Book, translated by Larry Shouldice, in the spring of 1976. The Magini, I think now, was probably a mistake. I had read the novel as counter-culture text, and Magini as a kind of Quebecois Gerry Gilbert, without noticing that it was also a text that required readers to bring a lot of contextualizing knowledge about Quebec in order to read its allegory. Unlike the Beaulieu, it sold very poorly, and received few reviews. The Brossard also sold relatively slowly, but received intrigued and often positive reviews, and considerable comment by other Coach House writers, like Bowering, Wah, Nichol, and Marlatt This response was repeated in the fall when we published Brossard's Sold-out, translated by Patricia Claxton as Turn of a Pang.
Barbara and I learned to work together on the series by dividing its tasks. In most cases I handled communications with publishers, and the negotiating of contracts for translation rights, and she handled those with translators. For most titles we accepted, with suitable additions or alterations, whatever basic French-language contract the Quebec publisher normally used in selling translation rights. Most publishers wished to sell Canadian English-language translation rights only, whereas we normally tried to obtain rights for both Canada and the U.S. (Even without U.S. rights, however, we were able to sell series titles in the U.S. until someone else bought U.S. rights and could be damaged if we sold there -- a situation which rarely occurred.) They also sought an early publication deadline, whereas we attempted to get the flexibility of a later one. In dealing with translators, we began with a very simple contract that transfered title to the translation outright to Coach House for a specified fee. Later we adopted a more complex contract that was drawn up for the translator's association -- one that attempted to created subsidiary rights and to specify terms in which the translation could be used by publishers in other national markets. (None of the subsidiary provisions in this latter contract, of course, could come into effect unless they were applied in tandem with parallel provisions in the translation rights contract we had negotiated with the French-language publisher. (1)) Once the translator had submitted a manuscript, Barbara edited it for accuracy of translation, then passed it on to me to edit for awkwardnesses in its English. I then saw the work through production, overseeing its proofreading, choosing its typefaces, writing cover and catalogue copy, and ensuring the appropriateness of its page design and layout.
Barbara and I had delayed seeking out additional titles until we had got through the publishing of the first three and begun to receive response to them. In the summer of 1976 we attempted to get the rights to Geneviève Amyot's recently published L'Absent aigu, which we had thought would interest a similar but slightly wider readership than the Brossard titles, and Victor-Lévy Beaulieu's Blanche forcée. We obtained rights to Brossard's French Kiss, and contracted with Patricia Claxton for translation. We were also offered by Ray Ellenwood, a colleague at York, a translation of Jacques Ferron's La Confiture de coing. Although Ferron was a generation older than the writers we had planned to publish, his connection to the Rhinoceros Party, the parodic tone of his work, and the caricature of Frank Scott that is one of the major parts of that novel, together persuaded us to obtain rights to it. And we were perhaps fortunate to do so, because we were unable to get rights for L'Absent aigu. We did acquire rights for Blanche forcée and for its translation once again engaged Sheila Fischman, who after a year or more sent back the advance we had paid her with a note that she did not like the novel well enough to feel comfortable translating it. And Patricia Claxton's translation of French Kiss became delayed for a variety of reasons.
Ellenwood's translation of the Ferron novel, under the title Quince Jam, was released in the fall of 1977. With no other completed translations in view, and with the strong encouragement of other Coach House editors, particularly bpNichol, we invited Brossard to assemble a collection of writing by Quebec writers of her generation, to be published both in French and English in the press's "The Story So Far" series. This developed into a large project, with seventeen contributors, nine translators, and in 1979 a published 344 page book. Dealing with this number of people, and persuading the Canada Council to fund different translators for different texts (the Council believed that one translator could translate them all, while we were adamant that each text needed to be matched with the abilities and sensibilities of available translators) was a taxing and time-consuming job. Because this was a bilingual edition, Barbara also had to play a large role in proofreading and in otherwise seeing the book through production. While we were working on this project, we were approached by Linda Gaboriau about publishing her translation of the collaborative drama La Nef des sorcières. The editorial collective viewed this as even more eccentric and difficult to sell than our other titles, but offered to make it available in a new series of Coach House Manuscript Editions, which the press had begun to offer in the spring of 1979 as direct order computer-generated "on-demand" editions of extremely new writing. Gaboriau's translation, The Clash of Symbols, was released in this series in October of 1979.
Concurrently, Barbara and I were following up an indication that Victor-Lévy Beaulieu had given us, during our communications concerning Blanche forcée, that he would like our series to publish as much of his work as possible, and in particular all of his "Voyageries" series (at that time in about seven volumes) of which Blanche forcée was the first part. After looking at this series, we decided that one of its most interesting parts, both novelistically and thematically, to a Coach House readership was the three-volume Monsieur Melville, an intricate combination of reverie, imagined biography, scrapbook, and fiction. For this large project, which must be one of the largest literary translation projects ever undertaken in Canada, we engaged Ray Chamberlain, who despite personal problems which prevented his completion of other tasks, and which delayed our translation for months at a time, was sufficiently engaged by the novel and by the size of the translation job to stay with it until it was ready for publication in 1984. Our edition recreated virtually page by page the mixture of photographs, engravings and text that Beaulieu had presented in the original edition. I created by hand a mock-up of each page for the guidance of the Coach House staff who put together the sheets of film. We had also, on Sheila Fischman's withdrawing from the Blanche forcée project, contracted with Chamberlain for a translation of that novel, but he was never able to complete the job -- or to return our advance (which for many years the Canada Council kept somewhat sourly urging us to retrieve). That impasse effectively scuttled our publication of Blanche forcée and of any more of Beaulieu's "Voyageries."
Also in 1979, concurrent with both the publication of A Clash of Symbols and our deliberations over Monsieur Melville, Larrry Shouldice, who had translated Brossard's A Book, offered us a translation of Brossard's poetry collection Mécanique Jongleuse, and Ray Ellenwood a translation of Claude Gauvreau's text dramas, "Entrailles." Because of the difficulty we had been having in getting new manuscripts ready, we decided to abandon for the moment our focus on fiction. I personally favoured publishing as many Brossard titles as possible, and making Coach House Brossard's primary anglophone-Canadian publisher. We were both attracted to the Gauvreau dramas, not only because of their connection with the Automatistes movement, but also because their unconventionality bore the much same relation to anglophone-Canadian dramatic writing as Brossard's and Beaulieu's novels bore to what Barbara had perceived as the formal conservatism of anglophone-Canadian fiction. These we published in 1980 and 1981 respectively as Daydream Mechanics and Entrails. And Barbara had begun translating Nicole Brossard's L'Amer. Her translation of that novel, entitled These Our Mothers, we published in 1983.
Our publication of These Our Mothers and Monsieur Melville pretty well marked the end of whatever momentum the series had. The delays in the translations of French Kiss and the Melville trilogy, the loss of both Blanche forcée and L'Absent aigu slowed the pace we had hoped the series to have, and causing 1978 and 82 both to pass without a series title. More seriously, the make-up of the Coach House editorial collective had changed sharply with the addition in the early 1980s of editors like Sarah Sheard and Clifford James, who could see little value in the series and considerable production expense, and with the hiring of managers for the publishing operation who had little understanding of a press which had aimed to publish books that writers might want to read as well as literary readers. (2)
Particularly after our publishing of Brossard's These Our Mothers, various editors began asking questions about the policy of allowing editors unsupervised editorial choices, and about the editorial autonomy enjoyed by Barbara and myself. Of special concern to some editors was the large number of volumes in the series by Brossard (in 1983 4 out of 8, with her French Kiss and the three volumes of Beaulieu's Monsieur Melville still pending); Sheard at one editorial meeting asked me "Isn't anyone else writing in Quebec?" While in theory Barbara and I were still independent, in actuality it was impossible to proceed with a title without at least the grudging approval of the other editors. Our period of autonomy was ending. Early in 1985 -- unbeknownst to Barbara (3) -- I attempted, unsuccessfully, to get the board to agree to our seeking the rights to Brossard's Amantes, which she was already translating. Later that year Fiona Strachan came to us with her translation of Brossard's Le Sens apparent, and Barbara persuaded the French publisher, Flammarion, to waive for Coach House the substantial advance it usually required. This time the board, led by Sarah Sheard, was not merely hostile -- it voted narrowly, over the objections of myself, my wife, and bpNichol, to require all series titles to receive formal editorial board approval. Immediately after the vote, I resigned as series co-editor and suggested that the board could make its own arrangements, with Barbara if it wished, for any continuation. Barbara's translation of Amantes was published by Guernica in 1986 as Lovhers. Ironically, Strachan's translation of Le Sens apparent somehow remained in the files of the press and was revived and accepted some years later after a change in management. I should add that I resigned not only because I had the strong impression that the collective was at that point likely to vote narrowly against any Quebec title Barbara and I brought forward, but also because I was absolutely opposed to the ending of the editors' freedom to make unsupervised editorial commitments on behalf of the press. And I resigned also because it was around Nicole Brossard' writing that the issue had been argued.
Although by 1985 the Brossard titles we had published were still making only modest but reliable sales, they were alone in our series in having attracted a committed audience, particularly among other writers -- first in British Columbia, where Fred Wah's fascination with A Book and Turn of a Pang led him to organize what I believe was Brossard's first-ever reading to an entirely anglophone audience, in Castlegar in 1979 -- the first of numerous invitations she would receive to read in B.C -- and soon after among feminist writers and readers in Toronto. Although Daphne Marlatt's first reading of Brossard was negative -- in 1977 in response to my recommending her writing to her she wrote back that Brossard's assumptions about language were the opposite to her own -- by the early 80s she was in contact with her and working toward the co-authored book Mauve, co-published in 1985 in Montreal and Vancouver by La Nouvelle barre du jour and Writing.
Interestingly, by 1988 the growth of women's studies in English Canada had caused the sales of the press's Brossard titles to accelerate, and some of the Coach House editors and staff to decide that they had been wrong to oppose publishing more of her work. The press published Fiona Strachan's translation of Le Sens apparent in 1989, as Surfaces of Sense, and Susanne de Lotbiniere Harwood's translation of Le Désert mauve, as Mauve Desert, in 1990 -- bringing to a total of seven its Brossard titles. The press's view of translations by this later period -- and of manuscripts generally -- was considerably influenced by their potential sales. On our resignations in 1986, the editors had asked David McFadden to take over editing the series. On the advice of Gail Scott and Ray Ellenwood, McFadden had sought to publish a translation of Yolande Villemaire's La Vie en prose, and contracted with David Homel to translate it -- but without first having acquired translation rights. Villemaire, angered that he had engaged a man to translate her book, persuaded her publisher to withhold translation rights from Coach House. Homel then convinced McFadden to acquire instead Dany Laferrière's highly popular Comment fair l'amour avec un negre sans se fatiguer, which Coach House published in Homel's translation as How to Make Love to a Negro, in 1987. The press followed with Homel translations of four additional Laferrière titles between 1991 and 94, making Laferrière its second most-published Quebec author.
With what seemed like increased financial stability in the early 1990s, the last general editor of Coach House, Margaret McClintock, turned to titles that Barbara and I might have chosen had our series continued: Daniel Gagnon's translation of his Une Fille à marier (A Marriageable Daughter) in 1989, Agnes Whitfield's translation of his Venite a cantare (Divine Diva) in 1991, D.G. Jones' translation of Normand de Bellefeuille's Categoriques un, deux, et trois in 1992, Sheila Fischman's translation of Lise Turcotte's Le Bruit des choses vivantes (The Sound of Living Things) in 1993, Howard Scott's translation of Madeleine Gagnon's Chant pour un Québec lointain (Song for a Far Quebec) in 1994, and Sheila Fischman's translation of Hélène LeBeau's La Chute du corps (No Song, But Silence) in 1995. In the cases of Venite a cantare, Le Bruit des chose vivantes, and Chant pour un Québec lointain, McClintock sent the French editions to me for appraisal and recommendation, and in that of Categoriques sent both the French edition and D.G. Jones' translation to me for appraisal. I reported favourably on all four, but was not asked by McClintock to play any role in their editing or production. Interestingly, in the ten years since the end of Barbara's and my editing, Coach House published as individual titles 13 'Quebec translations,' one more than Barbara and I managed in a similar period. In addition, the press published Robert Wallace's anthology Quebec Voices (with plays by René Gingras, Normand Chaurette, and René-Daniel Dubois), and Linda Gaboriau's translations of Normand Chaurette's Les Reines and Michel Marc Bouchard's Lilies. The main difference I can see between the titles in our series and those published later (apart from the two plays, which were acquired for the press by editor Robert Wallace) is that nearly all the latter were proposed to the press by their translators. Editorial decisions here were made on a per title basis, rather than on an overview of recent writing.
I've always believed that publishing should involve the anticipation of consequences beyond the possibility of making or losing money, or of building the reputation of one's press. Barbara and I set out -- at least I did -- to make francophone and anglophone writers in Canada more aware of each others' writing and writing theories. In that respect, our translation series was similar to the Dialogue conference which she organized at York for Canadian women writers and scholars in 1981, and to the Tessera project she began with Daphne Marlatt, Kathy Mezei, and Gail Scott in 1984. I'm not sure what cultural consequences the later Coach House Quebec translation projects aimed for. My impression -- I have only limited inside knowledge of this period -- was that the motivating factors included both a genuine interest among the current editors in the writing of other cultures and the convenience of publishing ready-made, and already translated, texts. If I had our series to help do over again, I think I would argue for publishing multiple titles by fewer authors: choosing three or four authors and attempting to make their work become 'news' in English Canada the way Brossard's writing became life-altering news for so many women writers in Ontario, and for both men and women writers in B.C. and Alberta. But the more you try to design a series the more you risk being thwarted by both institutional and chance factors: by translators being unable to honour contracts, by publishers who deal casually in translation rights, and by questions of marketing which eventually arise even in the most writerly of presses. Waiting for finished translations to come over the transom, however, transfers much of the editorial initiative from oneself to translators. My favorite Coach House translations remain the ones Barbara and I initiated.
1. Someone who wished to publish excerpts of the translation would, under the translators association contract, have to pay royalties both to Coach House, under provisions of the translations rights contact (to be shared with the French-language publisher) and to the translator, under provisions of the translation contract -- a situation which in my experience discouraged such publication. A publisher in Britain or the U.S. who purchased English-language rights for those territories would either have to buy the translation jointly from Coach House and the translator or pay for a new translation. In the one such case I know about, the publisher appeared to find it less expensive to pay for a new translation.
2. See my narrative of this period in Coach House Press history, "The Beginnings of an End to Coach House Press," Open Letter Ninth Series, No. 8 (Spring 1997), 40-77.
3. I had been trying to conceal from Barbara the acrimony of some editorial board members toward our series, both because there was little Barbara could do about it and because I mistakenly believed it not shared by a majority of the board. I was also hopeful that I could persuade Barbara that it would be better to make Coach House into Brossard's primary publisher in all genres than to stay with our initial, and already broken, focus on fiction.