Saskatoon resident and Life of Pi author Yann Martel is among the 135 appointees set to receive the Order of Canada, one of the country's highest civilian awards, from Governor General Mary Simon.
The nominees "are shining examples of the commitment and outstanding contributions Canadians have made to the well-being of communities throughout this land," Simon said in a news release on Wednesday. They will receive their honours at an investiture ceremony on a future date to be announced.
Martel, one of only two people on the list to be named as a companion — the top award — was nominated for his contributions to literature and his philanthropic commitment to the betterment of his region, according to a news release on Wednesday.
"It's an honour. I'm flattered, humbled," Martel told CBC. "When one gets something like this, one always thinks: 'Oh, someone else deserves it more than I did.' But I'm flattered."
St. Andrew's, Manitoba-based Murray Sinclair, the former senator who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is being made a companion for his commitment to Indigenous legal issues and for his dedication to reconciliation.
And Saskatoon resident and former senator Lillian Dyck is nominated, as one of 39 officers, for her contributions to human rights and social justice and for her "powerful advocacy" for First Nations and racial minorities in Canada, according to the press release.
Martel said he appreciates the honour, but that he's embarrassed to be recognized for his philanthropy.
"It's rare that rich people give money and are poorer for it. So, I'm not sure financial philanthropy should be a reason for getting the Order of Canada."
Regardless, he said he is grateful and that the award is likely thanks to the success of his novel Life of Pi.
The fantasy-adventure novel, which tells the story of a Tamil boy who survives an ordeal on a lifeboat, was published in 2001 and gained international recognition, winning a number of awards such as the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. In addition, it was made into a film in 2012 and won four Academy Awards.
"I was glad to see Canadian culture spread to that many corners of the world," he said.
For him, writing has always been a way of life.
"It is my way of understanding the world," Martel said. "I love working with words, working with sentences, building stories. It's a lovely way to pass the time and it makes sense of life. So, I've been lucky."
"I'd say that's a prime characteristic of my success is just sheer luck. And so I'm enjoying it."
Diversity and holding politicians accountable
Martel's novels focus on diversity and multiculturalism, and he said that's extremely important to him.
"We're a very diverse country, and I think that should be reflected in our politicians, in our policies, in the Order of Canada recipients and in our stories. We gain from that regardless of the numbers of the diversity," Martel said.
"It's good to look in the mirror and see many colours rather than a single colour. So yeah, I think it's essential not only just to be good to minorities, but even for the majority. It's good to contemplate that we can be something else and stretch our minds, stretch our hearts."
Martel is also known for writing the book 101 letters to a Prime Minister: The Complete Letters to Stephen Harper, which contains a list of more than 100 books Canadians should read. Martel said the project began when he heard that Harper didn't read.
"It seemed to come out that he didn't read anything at all, which is very dangerous when you have power because in a society like ours [which is] complex, you need to think. And a book is a wonderful way to think," Martel said.
"And so to have someone with that much power who doesn't read you sort of wonder: 'How do you know who you are? How do you know your country?'"
People should always be engaged with the written word and explore life, Martel said, adding that books are the best tools for that.