Member profile: Stephen Slessor

Why did you choose Translation Studies?

My academic and professional careers have led me down many paths, but an interest in languages and writing has been the one constant. I’ve taught Spanish, French and English as a second language at the high school, college and university levels, and worked as a professional writer and editor in the private and public sectors. When I started my MA in English literature at Concordia University in the early 2000s, I was already doing some freelance translation, which I very much enjoyed. During my MA, I took a literary translation seminar taught by Prof. Debbie Folaron, and I was hooked. I knew that my next degree would be in translation.

What are you working on at the moment? What are your areas of research?

When I’m not at my day job as a jurilinguist for the federal Department of Justice, I am chipping away at my doctoral thesis at the University of Ottawa’s School of Translation and Interpretation. My research looks at Harry Somers’ opera Louis Riel as an act of Canadian public history and explores the role of translation in the multimodal artistic representation of an important figure and a key moment in Métis and Canadian history. Beyond my thesis, I’ve also done some research on the intersections of translation technology and artistic production, including literary translation.

What book/film/band has made the biggest impression on you recently?

What book/film/band has made the biggest impression on you recently?

While I have always been an avid reader, I find that I have little energy for reading outside of work and school these days. I do, however, make time for poetry since poems provide a dense literary and linguistic punch in a compact form. The Indigenous component to my thesis project has made me acutely aware of the need to engage with the work of Indigenous artists, so this past fall, I attended a wonderful all-Indigenous poetry cabaret at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. Billy-Ray Belcourt, a young poet and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation, was among the readers. I bought his collection This Wound is a World, which won the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize, and I stayed up late reading it cover to cover. It’s an intimate and often gut-wrenching exploration of queer and Indigenous identities. While I strongly identified with the queer elements in Belcourt’s poetry, his work also sharpened my sense of the gulf between settler and Indigenous experience.

If you had one piece of advice to give to new Translation Studies students, what would it be?

I came to translation studies at the doctoral level, which meant that the learning curve was steep. I have met many students who have likewise come to our field later in their academic trajectories. The sheer breadth translation studies makes it fascinating but also daunting and difficult to navigate. It took me a long time and several false starts to find my thesis topic. My advice to new students is therefore to read widely within the field in their first semesters but to do so always with an eye to choosing and developing their thesis topic and situating it within the broader field. The sooner we make those links, the easier it is to get on with the research while also feeling like we’re making a real contribution to the field.