Donald Winkler was born in Winnipeg in 1940, graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1961, and as a Woodrow Wilson Scholar, did graduate study at the Yale School of Drama. From 1967 to 1995 he was a film director and writer at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal, and since the 1980s, a translator of Quebec literature: in 1994, 2011, and 2013 he won the Governor General’s Award for French to English translation, and has been a finalist for the prize on three other occasions.
Winkler’s films have dealt largely with the world of culture and the arts. His work has included short experimental films (Doodle Film and Travel Log); films on crafts and the graphic arts (In Praise of Hands and Bannerfilm); on theatre (Breaking a Leg – Robert Lepage and the Echo Project); on social history (The Summer of ’67); and, notably, a series of films on Canadian literary figures, collected under the overall title “Poets: A Sestet.” These documentaries provide a film record of six cultural pioneers who helped lay the foundations for modern Canadian writing. They include F.R. Scott: Rhyme and Reason; Poet: Irving Layton Observed; and films on Al Purdy, Earle Birney, Ralph Gustafson, and P.K. Page.
Winkler’s later films include Tomson Highway: Thank You for the Love You Gave, a biographical profile of the remarkable native-Canadian playwright; The Diva in Winter, on the great Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester; A Red Carpet for the Sun, on the life and career of poet Irving Layton; and A Voice for All Seasons, a profile of the brilliant young Quebec contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux. In 2004-2005 Winkler directed Moshe Safdie: the Power of Architecture, a portrait of the distinguished Canadian-Israeli architect, and The Pines of Emily Carr, based on the musical composition by Canadian composer Jean Coulthard (described by the Toronto Globe and Mail as “a film both stark and stirring”). He also co-directed The Colour of Memory: Conversations with Guido Molinari, a contemplative portrait of the Quebec artist, filmed during the last months of his life (“a surprisingly intimate and personal profile… quiet and thoughtful” – Montreal Gazette). All three of these films were featured at the 2005 International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal, and the film on Moshe Safdie was declared Best Educational Film.
2007 saw the release of Ode to a Requiem, featuring a performance of Mozart’s Requiem by the Quebec based ensemble Les Violons du Roy, along with a consideration of the work’s history and musicology. It was premiered at the International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal in 2007, was broadcast on CBC’s Opening Night, and received two Gemini nominations. (“Engaging, excellent, and educational” – The Toronto Globe and Mail. “Gorgeous to look at, and gorgeous to listen to” – The Ottawa Citizen). This film was followed by Suzie LeBlanc: A Musical Quest, which focused on soprano Suzie LeBlanc’s quest for and performance of traditional Acadian music, and, in 2011, by Margaret & Evergon, the story of a unique artist-model collaboration between a photographer and his mother.
In the realm of translation, 2007 saw the release of A Secret Between Us, Winkler’s rendering of La Kermesse, a novel by Daniel Poliquin. The book was a finalist for the 2007 Giller Prize. Terracide, astrophysicist Hubert Reeves’ inquiry into the future of human life on earth, appeared in 2009 with Cormorant Books. Two more translations appeared in the fall of 2010: Are You Married to a Psychopath, Nadine Bismuth’s highly praised collection of short stories, and philosopher Georges Leroux’s wide-ranging meditation on Glenn Gould and the nature of genius: Partita for Glenn Gould. Partita for Glenn Gould was awarded the 2011 Canada Council Governor General’s Literary Award for French to English translation, and was a finalist for the 2011 Quebec Writers’ Federation translation prize.
Winkler’s translation of Pierre Nepveu’s most recent collection of poetry, The Major Verbs , published by Signal Editions, won both the 2013 Governor General’s Award for Translation and the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s Cole Foundation Translation Prize. His translation of Seyhmus Dagtekin’s To the Spring, by Night was released in the spring of 2013, and his rendering of Mauricio Segura’s novel Eucalyptus appeared that same year, followed by Taking Aviation to New Heights, a biography of the former Air Canada CEO, Pierre Jeanniot. The year 2014 saw two new translations: the second volume of Jean-Claude Germain’s Montreal memoirs, Of Jesuits and Bohemians, and Roch Carrier’s dual biography of the protagonists on the Plains of Abraham, Montcalm & Wolfe. Montcalm & Wolfe was a finalist for the 2015 Governor General’s Award for Translation, while Winkler’s translation of Samuel Archibald’s short story collection, Arvida, was a finalist for the 2015 Giller Prize, and the 2016 Best Translated Book Award in the United States.
Recent translations include Jacques Rancourt’s book-length poem on the Lac Mégantic disaster, Forty-seven Stations for a Ravaged Town, Paul Savoie’s poetry collection Crac, Marguerite Andersen’s novel-memoir, The Bad Mother, Mélanie Vincelette’s novel, Polynya (in collaboration with Sheila Fischman), and Josephine Bacon’s poetry collection A Tea in the Tundra, in an English-Innu edition. Even more recent is Andrée A. MIchaud’s Governor General’s Award winning novel Boundary, plus poetry by René Lapierre, Joêl Pourbaix, Michel Albert, Célyne Fortin, and Carole David (details to be found in the Translations section). Due out in the fall of 2018, Pierre Nepveu’s poetry collection The Hardness of Matter and Water, and journalist Frédérick Lavoie’s For the Loss of a Fir Tree: Ukraine Undone.