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Yann Martel (born June 25, 1963) is a Canadian author best known for the Man Booker Prize-winning novel Life of Pi. He has won a number of literary prizes, including the 2001 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and the 2001-2003 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. He is also the first Canadian to represent the Washington Arts Commission. Although his first language is French, Yann Martel writes in English: “English is the language in which I best express the subtlety of life. But I must say that French is the language closest to my heart. And for this same reason, English gives me a sufficient distance to write.
Martel, the son of Nicole Perron and Emile Martel, was born in Salamanca, Spain. His parents were French-speaking Quebecers. His father was posted as a diplomat for the Canadian government at the time of his birth. He was raised in Costa Rica, France, Mexico, and Canada. As an adolescent he attended high school at Trinity College School, a boarding school in Port Hope, Ontario. As an adult, Martel has spent time in Iran, Turkey and India. After studying philosophy at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Martel spent 13 months in India visiting mosques, churches, temples and zoos, and spent two years reading religious texts and castaway stories. He now lives in Saskatoon, Canada. His first published fictional work, Seven Stories, appeared in 1993
In 2001, he published the novel Life of Pi, his fourth book, which was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2002. Life of Pi was later chosen for the 2003 edition of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads competition, where it was championed by author Nancy Lee. In addition, its French translation, Histoire de Pi, was included in the French version of the competition, Le combat des livres, in 2004, championed by singer Louise Forestier. Martel was inspired to write a story about sharing a lifeboat with a large cat after reading a review of the novella Max and the Cats by Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar. Martel received some criticism for failing to consult with Scliar and by Scliar himself for the way he initially responded to the criticism. Martel spent a year in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan from September 2003 as the public library’s writer-in-residence. He collaborated with Omar Daniel, composer-in-residence at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, on a piece for piano, string quartet and bass. The composition, You Are Where You Are, is based on text written by Martel, which includes parts of cellphone conversations taken from moments in an ordinary day. In November 2005, the University of Saskatchewan announced that Martel would be scholar-in-residence. His novel Beatrice and Virgil (2010) deals with the Holocaust: its main characters are two stuffed animals (a monkey and a donkey), along with several other animals depicted in a taxidermy shop. Martel describes them as simply two approaches to the same subject. From 2007 to 2011, Martel worked on a project entitled What is Stephen Harper Reading? Every two weeks, he sent the Prime Minister of Canada one book that portrays “stillness,” with an accompanying explanatory note. He posted his letters, book selections, and responses received to a website devoted to the project. A book-length account of the project was published in the fall of 2009. Martel ended the project in February 2011, after sending Harper a total of 100 books.
Seven Stories (1993) The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (1993) Self (1996) Life of Pi (2001) We Ate the Children Last (2004) Beatrice and Virgil (2010) 101 Letters to a Prime Minister: The Complete Letters to Stephen Harper (2012)
Winner of the 2002 Man Booker Prize for Fiction Winner of the 2001 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction Shortlisted for the 2001 Governor General’s Award for Fiction Winner of the 2001-2003 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Shortlisted for Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award First Canadian to represent the Washington Arts Commission His short story “The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios” was the winner of the 1991 Journey Prize
Martel has said in a number of interviews that Dante’s Divine Comedy is the single most impressive book he has ever read. In talking about his most memorable childhood book, he recalls Le Petit Chose by Alphonse Daudet. He said that he read it when he was ten years old, and it was the first time he found a book so heartbreaking that it moved him to tears.[