Books

Canadian authors Yann Martel, Tomson Highway, Max Eisen among the names appointed to the Order of Canada

The writers were among the 135 Canadians appointed to the Order of Canada at the end of 2021.
Canadian authors Yann Martel, Tomson Highway and Max Eisen are 2021 appointees to the Order of Canada. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press, Sean Howard, Nick Iwanyshyn)

Saskatoon novelist Yann Martel, Gatineau, Que., playwright Tomson Highway and Toronto writer, speaker and Canada Reads winner Max Eisen were among 135 Canadians who were appointed to the Order of Canada by Governor General Mary Simon at the end of 2021.

Considered one of Canada's highest civilian honours, the Order of Canada is meant to recognize people who make "extraordinary contributions to the nation," according to the Governor General of Canada website. 

Martel was named a companion, the highest of the honour's three levels, for "his contributions to literature and for his philanthropic commitment to the betterment of his region."

Martel is known for novels like Life of Piwinner of the 2002 Booker Prize, as well as Beatrice and Virgil and The High Mountains of Portugal.

"My first thought was, there were so many other people who I can think of — lesser-known groups, volunteers, [and people] who have had incredibly difficult lives," Martel said to CBC News.

"Surely they deserve it, too."

Tomson Highway received a promotion within the Order, from member to officer, for "his sustained and distinguished contributions to theatre and Canadian culture as one of our foremost playwrights and novelists."

Highway won the 2021 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction for his debut memoir Permanent Astonishment

The book chronicles the first 15 years of his life, starting from his birth in a snowbank in northern Manitoba, growing up with his nomadic Cree-speaking family, and later learning English at a residential school and discovering he had a talent for piano.

Highway is also a world-renowned composer, pianist, playwright and author of the novel Kiss of the Fur Queen.

LISTEN | Tomson Highway on his memoir Permanent Astonishment

Author and playwright Tomson Highway joined Tom Power to talk about his new memoir, Permanent Astonishment, which explores the joys of growing up in a Northern Cree community. 19:09

Max Eisen, author of the memoir By Chance Alone, was also appointed a member of the Order of Canada. 

The Toronto writer and educator, who is now in his early 90s, is a Holocaust survivor. For over two decades, he has travelled to schools and community halls across the country to tell his stories about surviving the horrors of the Second World War.

He shares his story in By Chance Alonewhich won Canada Reads in 2019, defended by Canadian journalist and broadcaster Ziya Tong

Eisen was appointed to the Order "for his contributions to Holocaust education, and for his promotion of transformational dialogue on human rights, tolerance and respect."

LISTEN | Max Eisen on his memoir By Chance Alone

Max Eisen talks to Shelagh Rogers about his memoir By Chance Alone. (CANADA READS SELECTION) 16:14

Former senator and chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Murray Sinclair was also named as an Order of Canada companion, the highest of the honour's three levels, which also include the level of officer and member. 

Sinclair is also an author with a forthcoming memoir titled Who We Are; in a recent interview with The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers, Sinclair said the book will look at Indigenous identity and the need to understand the past to move on to the future. 

Quebec City writer Neil Devindra Bissoondath was also appointed as an officer to the Order of Canada. Bissoondath is a novelist, short story and nonfiction writer whose books include The Unyielding Clamour of the Night, A Causal Brutality and Doing the Heart Good.

Bissoondath was recognized for his "contributions to Canadian literature through his groundbreaking examinations of multiculturalism and diversity."

Winnipeg writer J. Roger Léveillé was named an officer. Known as a leader of French literature in Manitoba, Léveillé has published over 30 works — novels, poetry and essays — including The Setting Lake Sun, Ganiishomong ou L'Extase du temps and Ex Nihilo.

Léveillé was honoured for "his innovative literary achievements, and for supporting generations of Franco-Manitoban artists, thus contributing to the cultural enrichment of Canada."

Read more about the artists, scientists, community and industry leaders who received Order of Canada honours here.

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