Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje books and biography

Michael Ondaatje

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Philip Michael Ondaatje, OC, (IPA pronunciation: /ɒn'dɑːtʃiː/), (born 12 September 1943) is a Sri Lankan Canadian novelist and poet, perhaps best known for his Booker Prize winning novel adapted into an Academy-Award-winning film, The English Patient.


Life and work

Born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to a Burgher family of Dutch-Tamil-Sinhalese-Portuguese origin, in 1954 he moved to England with his mother.

After relocating to Canada in 1962, Ondaatje became a Canadian citizen. Ondaatje studied for a time at Bishop's University, but moved to Toronto and received his BA from the University of Toronto and his MA from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and began teaching at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. In 1970 he settled in Toronto. From 1971 to 1988 he taught English Literature at York University and Glendon College in Toronto.

He and his wife, novelist and academic Linda Spalding, co-edit Brick, A Literary Journal, with Michael Redhill, Michael Helm, and Esta Spalding.

His style of fiction, introduced in Coming Through Slaughter (1976) and mastered in The English Patient (1992), is non-linear. He creates a narrative by exploring many interconnected snapshots in great detail.

Although he is best known as a novelist, Ondaatje's work also encompasses memoir, poetry, and film. His memoir of his Sri Lankan childhood is called Running in the Family (1982). He has published thirteen books of poetry, and won the Governor General's Award for two of them: The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970) and There's a Trick With a Knife I'm Learning to Do: Poems 1973-1978 (1979).

The Collected Works of Billy the Kid and Coming Through Slaughter have been adapted for the stage and produced in numerous theatrical productions across North America. Ondaatje's three films include a documentary on fellow poet bp nichol, Sons of Captain Poetry, and The Clinton Special: A Film About The Farm Show, which chronicles a collaborative theatre experience led in 1971 by Paul Thompson of Theatre Passe Muraille. In 2002 he published a non-fiction book, The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, which won special recognition at the 2003 American Cinema Editors Awards, as well as a Kraszna-Krausz Book Award for best book of the year on the moving image.

Ondaatje has, since the 1960s, also been involved with Toronto's influential Coach House Books, supporting the independent small press by working as a poetry editor.

He is also known for four other works of fiction:

  • Anil's Ghost — winner of the 2000 Giller Prize, the Prix Mdicis, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, the 2001 Irish Times International Fiction Prize and Canada's Governor General's Award.
  • The English Patient — winner of the Booker Prize, the Canada Australia Prize, and the Canadian Governor General's Award and later made into a motion picture, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. The English Patient can be considered a sequel to In the Skin of a Lion (1987).
  • In the Skin of a Lion — winner of the 1988 City of Toronto Book Award and finalist for the 1987 Ritz Paris Hemingway Award for best novel of the year in English. It was selected for the first "Canada Reads" edition in 2002. A fictional story about early immigrant settlers in Toronto, In the Skin of a Lion eventually won the competition.
  • Coming Through Slaughter — a fictional story of New Orleans, Louisiana about 1900, very loosely based on the lives of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden and photographer E. J. Bellocq. Winner of the 1976 Books in Canada First Novel Award

In 1988 Michael Ondaatje was made an Officer of the Order of Canada (OC) and two years later became a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

He is the brother of philanthropist and businessman, Christopher Ondaatje.


  • The Dainty Monsters - 1967
  • Leonard Cohen - 1969 (essay)
  • The Man with Seven Toes - 1969
  • The Collected Works of Billy the Kid - 1970
  • The Broken Ark: A Book of Beasts - 1971 (editor)
  • Rat Jelly - 1973
  • Coming Through Slaughter - 1976
  • Personal Fictions: Stories by Munro, Wiebe, Thomas, and Blaise - 1977 (editor)
  • Elimination Dance - 1978
  • There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do - 1979
  • The Long Poem Anthology - 1979 (editor)
  • Tin Roof - 1982
  • Claude Glass - 1982
  • Running in the Family - 1982
  • Secular Love - 1984
  • In the Skin of a Lion - 1987
  • From Ink Lake: Canadian Stories - 1990 (editor)
  • The Brick Reader - 1991 (edited with Linda Spalding)
  • The Cinnamon Peeler - 1991
  • "Translations of My Postcards" from The Cinnamon Peeler, online at CBC Words at Large
  • The English Patient - 1992
  • Handwriting - 1998
  • Lost Classics - 2000 ISBN 0-676-97299-3 (edited with Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding and Linda Spalding)
  • Anil's Ghost - 2000
  • The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film - 2002
  • The Story - 2005
  • Divisadero - 2007

See also

  • Burghers
  • Colombo Chettys
  • Christopher Ondaatje
  • Kim Ondaatje
  • Pearl Ondaatje

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