Vivian Felsen is nominated as a finalist in the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Awards of Canada, for her translation of Jacob Isaac Segal: A Montreal Yiddish Poet and His Milieu


OTTAWA, October 9, 2018 – Vivian Felsen, translator of Jacob Isaac Segal: A Montreal Yiddish Poet and His Milieu, has been announced as a finalist in the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Awards, in the Translation category (from French to English). The winners will be announced on October 30, 2018.

Published by the University of Ottawa Press in 2017, Jacob Isaac Segal: A Montreal Yiddish Poet and His Milieu is Vivian Felsen’s brilliant and sensitive translation into English of Pierre Anctil’s original work on the poet published under the title Jacob Isaac Segal (1896–1954). Un poète yiddish de Montréal et son milieu (Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 2012). Anctil’s epigraph to the translator’s note remarks that “Without mutual support and encouragement, we struggle alone. Together, we forge ahead.”

This sentiment could not be more apt. Vivian Felsen, the translator, Pierre Anctil, the author, and Jacob Isaac Segal, the poet, give rise to a voice that transcends the cultural and linguistic intersections of the unique milieu captured in the work. As Felsen has remarked, “rendering this biography into English” went beyond translating the work from French into English; it also “required translating the Yiddish passages cited, and especially the poetry, directly from the Yiddish.” Vivian Felsen’s own evolution as a translator made her the perfect match for this work: her own grandfather, Israel Medres, was a Montreal Yiddish journalist. And it was Pierre Anctil who first published a schorlarly translation into French of a Yiddish book by Medres. This was the impetus for Felsen to translate her grandfather’s work into English, which in turn led to her becoming a Yiddish translator.

Over the two decades since that beginning, Felsen has translated several works from Yiddish into English. In translating Jacob Isaac Segal: A Montreal Yiddish Poet, Vivian Felsen brought a rare combination of expertise, creativity and personal rediscovery of her own family’s history to bear. The result is an outstanding and complex work of translation that takes the reader into a vital and too little-known Yiddish-speaking immigrant community in Montreal.

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Founded in 1936, the Governor General’s Literary Awards are one of Canada's oldest and most prestigious literary awards program. The Canada Council for the Arts has funded, administered and promoted the awards since 1959. In their 82 years, the Governor General’s Literary Awards have celebrated more than 700 works by over 500 authors, poets, playwrights, translators and illustrators.

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