Member Spotlight – Yann Martel

Yann Martel
‘I can only be a writer if I can write freely, so in defending the right of writers to free expression, I am defending my own future … If you start hemming in free speech, you start hemming in free thinking. And that spells not only the end of democracy, but the end of the space in which I can be creative.’ – Yann Martel

Mark Medley in conversation with Yann Martel

MM: How long have you been a member of PEN Canada?
YM: Must be about 20 years now. I joined as soon as I could, right after my first book was published.

MM: What prompted you to join?
YM: Pure self-interest (that happens to coincide with a greater good). I can only be a writer if I can write freely, so in defending the right of writers to free expression, I am defending my own future. To think that freedom of expression is under threat only abroad, in faraway dictatorships, is naive. Sure, in places like China and Iran, the oppression is heavy-handed, but vigilance and activism is required here in Canada too. If you start hemming in free speech, you start hemming in free thinking. And that spells not only the end of democracy, but the end of the space in which I can be creative.

MM: Why is the organization important to you?
YM: Because it defends a fundamental value that is key to a dynamic, self-reflective society: the right to write freely.

MM: Why should I join?
YM: Everyone, whether writer or reader, has an interest in living in a society where words can move around with the fewest restrictions possible. To achieve that kind of society requires the kind of work that PEN does.

Yann Martel is the author of the Man Booker Prize-winning novel Life of Pi as well as Beatrice and Virgil, among his other works.

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