Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje

Ondaatje speaking at Tulane University, 2010
Born Philip Michael Ondaatje
(1943-09-12) 12 September 1943
Colombo, Ceylon
Occupation Author
Language English
Alma mater University of Toronto
Queen's University
Bishop's University
Notable works
Notable awards Governor General's Award - Poetry
Booker Prize
Giller Prize
Prix Médicis étranger
Order of Canada
St. Louis Literary Award
Spouse Linda Spalding

Philip Michael Ondaatje, OC (/ɒnˈdɑː/; born 12 September 1943), is a Sri Lankan-born Canadian poet, novelist, editor and filmmaker. He is the recipient of multiple literary awards such as the Governor General's Award, the Giller Prize, the Booker Prize, and the Prix Médicis étranger.[1] Ondaatje is also an Officer of the Order of Canada, recognizing him as one of Canada's most renowned living authors, along with names like Margaret Atwood.[1][2]

Ondaatje's literary career began with his poetry in 1967, publishing the books The Dainty Monsters, and then in 1970 the critically acclaimed The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.[1] However, he is more recently recognized for his nationally and internationally successful novel The English Patient (1992), which was adapted into a film in 1996.[1]

In addition to his literary writing, Ondaatje has been an important force in "fostering new Canadian writing"[3] with two decades commitment to Coach House Press (around 1970-90), and his editorial credits on Canadian literary projects like the journal Brick, and the Long Poem Anthology (1979), among others.[3]

Early life and education

Ondaatje was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, in 1943; and is of Dutch, Sinhalese, and Tamil ancestry.[3][4] His parents separated when he was just an infant, subsequently living with relatives until 1954 when he joined his mother in England.[3] While in England, Ondaatje pursued secondary education at Dulwich College, but shortly after immigrated to Montreal, Quebec in 1962.[5] After relocating to Canada, Ondaatje studied at Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec for three years.[3][5] However, in his final year[3] he went on to the University of Toronto where he received a Bachelor of Arts in 1965.[3] In 1967, he received a Master of Arts from Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario.[1]

While he was working on his undergraduate degree at Bishop's University, Ondaatje's met his future mentor, the poet D.G Jones, who praised his poetic ability.[3]

After his formal schooling, Ondaatje began teaching English at the University of Western Ontario in London.[5] In 1971, reluctant to get his Ph.d, he left the position at Western and continued teaching English literature at Glendon College, York University.[1][5]


Ondaatje's work includes fiction, autobiography, poetry and film. He has published 13 books of poetry, and won the Governor General's Award for 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). Anil's Ghost (2000) was the winner of the 2000 Giller Prize, the Prix Médicis, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, the 2001 Irish Times International Fiction Prize and Canada's Governor General's Award. The English Patient (1992) won the Booker Prize, the Canada Australia Prize, and the Governor General's Award. It was adapted as a motion picture, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture and multiple other awards.[6] In the Skin of a Lion (1987), a novel about early immigrant settlers in Toronto, was the winner of the 1988 City of Toronto Book Award, finalist for the 1987 Ritz Paris Hemingway Award for best novel of the year in English, and winner of the first Canada Reads competition in 2002.

Coming Through Slaughter (1976), is a novel set in New Orleans, Louisiana circa 1900, loosely based on the lives of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden and photographer E. J. Bellocq. It was the winner of the 1976 Books in Canada First Novel Award. Running in the Family (1982) is a semi-fictional memoir of his Sri Lankan childhood.

Ondaatje's novel Divisadero won the 2007 Governor General's Award. In 2011 Ondaatje worked with Daniel Brooks to create a play based on this novel.[7]


The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Coming Through Slaughter and Divisadero have been adapted for the stage and produced in theatrical productions across North America and Europe. In addition to The English Patient adaptation, Ondaatje's films include a documentary on fellow poet B.P. 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, Ondaatje 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.[8]


On 11 July 1988, Ondaatje was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.[9] In 2005, he was honoured with Sri Lanka Ratna by the former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Sri Lanka Ratna is the highest honour given by the Government of Sri Lanka for foreign nationals.

In 2016 a new species of spider, Brignolia ondaatjei, discovered in Sri Lanka, was named after him.[10]

Public stand

In April 2015, Ondaatje was one of several members of PEN American Center who individually withdrew as literary hosts when the organization gave its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to Charlie Hebdo. The award came in the wake of the fatal shooting attack on the magazine's Paris offices in January 2015.[11]

Personal life

Since the 1960s, Ondaatje has been involved with Toronto's Coach House Books, supporting the independent small press by working as a poetry editor. Ondaatje and his wife Linda Spalding, a novelist and academic, co-edit Brick, A Literary Journal, with Michael Redhill, Michael Helm, and Esta Spalding.[8] In 1988, Ondaatje was made an Officer of the Order of Canada (OC) and two years later a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Ondaatje has served on the board of trustees of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry since 2000.[12]

Ondaatje has two children. His brother Christopher Ondaatje is a philanthropist, businessman and author. Ondaatje's nephew David Ondaatje is a film director and screenwriter, who made the 2009 film The Lodger.[13]



Poetry collections



See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Thesen, Sharon. "Michael Ondaatje". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  2. "Michael Ondaatje - Literature". literature.britishcouncil.org. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Michael Ondaatje." In An Anthology of Canadian Literature in English, edited by Donna Bennett and Russell Brown, 928-30. 3rd ed. Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  4. 1 2 Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek (January 2005). Comparative Cultural Studies and Michael Ondaatje's Writing. Purdue University Press. pp. 6–. ISBN 978-1-55753-378-4.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "(Philip) Michael Ondaatje." In Gale Online Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale, 2016. Literature Resource Center (accessed November 30, 2016)
  6. 1 2 3 "Michael Ondaatje’s Passage From Ceylon". New York Times, By LIESL SCHILLINGER OCT. 14, 2011
  7. 1 2 "How Michael Ondaatje and Daniel Brooks made 'Divisadero' into a play". Kate Taylor, Toronto — The Globe and Mail, Feb. 04, 2011
  8. 1 2 3 "Michael Ondaatje". The Morning News, by Robert Birnbaum
  9. "Order of Canada: Michael Ondaatje, O.C., M.A.", Governor General of Canada website.
  10. "New spider species named for Michael Ondaatje". Shyam Selvadurai CBC Books. August 10, 2016
  11. Schuessler, Jennifer, "Six PEN Members Decline Gala After Award for Charlie Hebdo", New York Times, 26 April 2015. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
  12. "C$80,000 Griffin Poetry Prize Launched by Renowned Literary Figures: Margaret Atwood, Robert Hass, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson and David Young", griffinpoetryprize.com, September 6, 2000.
  13. "The Lodger forces out a remake of a remake", Village Voice, 21 January 2009
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 Web page titled "Archive: Michael Ondaatje (1943- )" at the Poetry Foundation website, accessed 7 May 2008
  15. 1 2 3 "Michael Ondaatje: The divided man". The Guardian, Robert McCrum, 28 August 2011
  16. 1 2 Gale, Cengage Learning. A Study Guide for Michael Ondaatje's "The Cinnamon Peeler". Gale, Cengage Learning. pp. 3–. ISBN 978-1-4103-4284-3.
  17. Films by Michael Ondaatje

Further reading

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