Jo-Anne Elder

Jo-Anne ElderPhoto:
Jo-Anne Elder

Jo-Anne Elizabeth Elder (poet, writer, editor, translator, professor) was born in Hamilton, Ontario on 30 October 1957, the youngest of five siblings. Her father, David M. Elder (C.M.), was an educator who taught French and German at the high school level. Her mother, Edrie (Campbell) Elder, was a teacher as well, and came from a family dispersed between the Gaspé Peninsula and Bathurst, New Brunswick (Personal interview).

Elder attended Burlington Central High School. She received an education in languages, and graduated in 1974. She continued her education at Trent University, where she focused on Canadian Studies and Quebec literature. In 1979 she transferred to Université de Sherbrooke to pursue MA and PhD degrees in comparative Canadian literature. She began raising a family during her PhD.

In 1988, she moved to Fredericton, New Brunswick to teach French at the University of New Brunswick. Elder also taught courses at the Université de Moncton from 2003 until her retirement in 2012. Though no longer employed at either university she continues to live in Fredericton.

Inspired by the literary translation being done at the Canadian Comparative Studies program at Université de Sherbrooke, Elder found herself interested in translation, a growing movement that was attempting to bring both the French and English cultures of Québec together.

In New Brunswick she found herself immersed in a similar two-language milieu, and she realized that the same practices adopted in Québec could be useful in the bilingual province.

Elder has now translated approximately twenty works from English to French and French to English. These works include poetry collections, short stories, novels, children’s literature, drama, and film. In the process she has worked closely with local writers such as Fred Cogswell, Herménégilde Chiasson, Serge Patrice Thibodeau, Françoise Enguehard, Dyane Léger, and Gérald LeBlanc.

To operationalize her work in translation, Elder became the editor of ellipse magazine, “a magazine that promotes literary translation and intercultural awareness” (Editorial). She and her husband moved it from Sherbrooke, Québec to New Brunswick in 2002, forming an editorial partnership that lasted a decade. In New Brunswick, ellipse moved beyond the traditional format of translations of English and French poetry and branched out into translations in many other languages (Personal interview).

Elder cites her major influences as the Beat Poets of the United States, whose voices seem to be echoed in Acadian poetry. The Beats’ sense of community also seemed to find a parallel in Acadie. The effort of making voices heard is often evident in her work, specifically the voices of women and the Acadian people.

The voices of the Acadian people become clear in Beatitudes, a translation of Acadian poet Herménégilde Chiasson. Together, poet and translator present a community that has been struggling to escape the silence that has surrounded it for years:

those who pretend to be outraged by those who sing
out resignation in a borrowed tongue,
those who carry the discomfort of defeat in half-smiles
stained by underlying rage,
those who clown around in hard hats too heavy for
their bird-like heads,
those whose hands lift into the air as if separate from
their bodies, as if sketching into thin air thoughts they hope
will one day be written in indelible ink. (10)

Beautitudes explores ideas that appeal to a broad, human audience, as it investigates the binding ties of community and the inevitable nature of death:

those who carry their children like slumbering
rivers, living poetry, acts of faith through the soundproof
overheated corridors of modern buildings,
those who apologize profusely before slipping away
into the subdued obscurity of an unavoidable solitude from
which there is no escape,
they, too, will see heaven. (10)

Deemed a “solitary beacon” that acts as “a call for reconciliation . . . an invitation to citizens of the province to take charge of the identity project on their own terms,” this collaboration attempts to bridge the gap between the Anglophone and Francophone cultures of New Brunswick (Tremblay 103,107).

Elder’s own collection of flash fiction entitled Postcards From Ex-Lovers (2005) was the winner of the David Adams Richards Prize of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick. She was a finalist for the Govenor General’s Award (Literary Translation) in 2003 for Enguehard’s Tales from Dog Island: St. Pierre et Miquelon (2002), again in 2008 for her translation of Beatitudes (2007), and most recently in 2009 for Serge Patrice Thibodeau’s One (2009).

Her other notable works of translation include: Unfinished Dreams: Contemporary Poetry of Acadie (co-edited with Cogswell, 1990, poetry), Climates (Chiasson, 1999, poetry), Conversations (Chiasson, 2001, poetry), Lifedream (Chiasson, 2006, drama), and Islands of Dr. Thomas (Enguehard, 2012, novel).

Critics have praised Elder’s work as a translator for her careful and accurate extraction of symbols and meaning. She is “not only in command of language and its reading, but attuned to the discursive apparatus informing . . . texts” (Tremblay 106). Elder’s translations are “significant instrumentally for breaking intercultural ground” as they make language from both cultures accessible and open to the other (Tremblay 104).

Elder states that translation in a bilingual province is necessary as, “it makes writing accessible to all” and it “awakens readers to new kinds of voice” (Personal interview).

Ashley Culliton, Winter 2012
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Elder, Jo-Anne. Editorial. ellipse 86 (2008–2009): 2.

---. Personal interview. 3 Oct. 2012.

---. Postcards From Ex-Lovers. Fredericton, NB: Broken Jaw Press, 2005.

---, ed. Shoreline: Water Poems: A Poetry Anthology. Toronto, ON: Canadian Unitarian Council, 2007.

Elder, Jo-Anne, and Colin B. O’Connell, eds. Voices and Echoes: Canadian Women’s Spirituality. Études sur les femmes et la religion 4. Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier UP, 1997.


Basque, Maurice, ed. New Brunswick / Nouveau-Brunswick. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Tracadie-Sheila, NB: Éditions la Grande Marée, 2009.

Belleau, Janick. Humeur: Haïku et tanka: Sensibility, Alma. Illus. Diane Desmarais. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder, Jonathan Kaplansky, and Rosa Bautista. Montreal, QC: Carte Blanche, 2003.

Chiasson, Herménégilde. Anecdotes et énigmes: L’exposition Marion McCain d’art Atlantique / Anecdotes and Enigmas: The Marion McCain Atlantic Art Exhibition. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions; Beaverbrook Art Gallery, 1994.

---. Beatitudes. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, 2007.

---. Climates. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder and Fred Cogswell. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, 1999.

---. Conversations. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder and Fred Cogswell. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, 2001.

---. Lifedream. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Toronto, ON: Guernica Editions, 2006.

Cogswell, Fred, and Jo-Anne Elder, eds. and trans. Unfinished Dreams: Contemporary Poetry of Acadie. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, 1990.

D’Alfonso, Antonio. A Friday in August. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Toronto, ON: Exile Editions, 2006.

Diamond, Lynn. The Past at Our Feet. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Prose Series 69. Toronto, ON: Guernica Editions, 2004.

Dickson, Robert. Human Presences and Possible Futures: Selected Poems. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Essential Translations Series 10. Toronto, ON: Guernica Editions, 2012.

Enguehard, Françoise. The Islands of Dr. Thomas. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. St. John’s, NL: Breakwater Books, 2012.

---. Tales from Dog Island: St. Pierre et Miquelon, a Novel. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. St. John’s, NL: Killick Press, 2002.

Fitch, Sheree. Bisou, Bisous Bébé-ô! Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 2009.

Forand, Claude. In the Claws of the Cat. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Prose Series 77. Toronto, ON: Guernica Editions, 2006.

Gagnon, Carolle. Marie-Hélène Allain: La symbolique de la pierre. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Moncton, NB: Éditions d’Acadie, 1994.

Gaudet, Donatien. Dolores Breau: Portraits d’un peuple / Portraits of a People. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Moncton, NB: Éditions d’Acadie, 1996.

Leblanc, Gérald. Moncton Mantra. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Prose Series 59. Toronto, ON: Guernica Editions, 2001.

Lovatt, Tom. Site/Specific/Sight: Marion McCain Atlantic Art Exhibition 2007. Trans. Nicole Baril, Rose Després, and Jo-Anne Elder. Fredericton, NB: Beaverbrook Art Gallery, 2007.

Montgomery, L.M. Anne - la maison aux pignons verts: Récits pour jeunes lecteurs. Illus. David Preston Smith. Ed. Deidre Kessler. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Books, 2010.

Smiley, Doreen. Simon et el catapulte: La périleuse aventure au parc. Illus. Brenda Jones. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder and Suzanne Bernard. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Books, 2009.

Thibodeau, Serge Patrice. One. Trans. Jo-Anne Elder. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, 2009.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Tremblay, Tony. “Strategy and Vision for an Intercultural New Brunswick in the Recent Poetry of Herménégilde Chiasson and the Translation of Jo-Anne Elder.” Quebec Studies 50 (Fall 2010/Winter 2011): 97-111.