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Found in translation: Alumna Shelley Pomerance embarks on a new chapter

The veteran arts journalist recently translated François Gravel’s memoir about living with Parkinson’s
May 8, 2023
By Richard Burnett, BA 88

A woman with white hair and black circle-framed glasses sits smiling with her arms crossed. She is sitting in an office and is wearing a colourful button-down shirt Shelley Pomerance, BA 78 | Photo: Liv Mann-Tremblay

For 40 years, Shelley Pomerance, BA 78, has supported Quebec’s English-language authors through her work as an arts and culture journalist, festival programmer and television host. Now, the focus is on Pomerance for her English translation of Colonel Parkinson in Charge: A Wry Reflection on My Incurable Illness (House of Anansi Press, 2023), a memoir by bestselling Quebecois author François Gravel

“When I read the original French version, I was seduced by Gravel’s sense of humour,” says the veteran broadcaster, radio host and reporter. “I wanted to translate it — the translation rights were available and I pitched two sample chapters and Bruce Walsh, then at House of Anansi Press, accepted my pitch.” And Gravel is delighted with Pomerance’s work. 

In her Good Morning America review of the book, Zibby Owens said, “Translated from French, this slim, beautiful memoir by 65-year-old François Gravel details his descent into illness and what it feels like to have his body overtaken by an unwelcome intruder.”

‘This book will help people learn about the disease’

For Pomerance, who has spent a career interviewing authors and reviewing their books, the glowing reviews for her own work are a validation of sorts.

“I’ve been doing translations for years, for cultural and community organizations,” she says. “For my first literary translation I did not want to take on something too big. It was about 150 pages. And I was dedicated to the subject because the brother of a very close friend has Parkinson’s. This book will help people learn about the disease.”

In addition to her translation work — for clients from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris to the Université de Montréal — Pomerance is the host of Writers Unbound, the MAtv television series devoted to Montreal’s English-language writers and their books. 

“Writers and publishers are grateful because we give them visibility and help sell books,” says Pomerance, who began her media career in 1981 as a host and arts reporter with CBC Radio.

With her translation of Gravel’s book, Pomerance says she has been fully embraced by the English writing community she has long reported about. “It’s a very tight group. They’ve been very generous and supportive of me.”

A very different and dynamic experience

Pomerance has also been a programmer with Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival and returned this year to program the fifth edition of The Gabriel Safdie Event: Jerusalem of the Mind on April 30. A distinguished panel discussed the roles of activists and writers in the future of Israel and Palestine, and how the current political situation will affect literature in both cultures. 

“Bringing Israeli and Palestinian writers and journalists together can be difficult sometimes,” Pomerance says. “It can get very complicated. Trying to pull this together can take months. This year we [had] a superb panel.”

Pomerance’s literary work is a far cry from her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. After three years working in her field of study, she switched to broadcasting. But, she says, the lessons she learned at Concordia have stood her well.

“I had gone to university in the United States for a couple of years before I went to Concordia, and I found Concordia to be a very different and more dynamic experience,” Pomerance says. 

“Concordia was diverse, open and — unlike the American university, which had mostly male professors who paid more attention to the male students — at Concordia, I had many women professors who paid attention to everybody. 

“I felt included and that made a big difference in my education.”

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