Michael Ondaatje

Philip Michael Ondaatje, OC (born 12 September, 1943 is a Sri Lankan Canadian novelist and poet, perhaps best known for his Booker Prize-winning novel, which was adapted into an Academy-Award-winning film, The English Patient.

Life and work

Michael Ondaatje was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and moved to England with his mother in 1954. After relocating to Canada in 1962, Ondaatje became a Canadian citizen. He studied for a time at Bishops College School and Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, but moved to Toronto, where he received his BA from the University of Toronto and his MA from Queen's in Kingston, Ontario. He then began teaching at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. In 1970, he settled in Toronto and, from 1971 to 1988, taught English Literature there at York University and Glendon College.

Ondaatje 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 minute detail.

Although he is best known as an novelist, Ondaatje's work has also encompassed autobiography, poetry and film. A semi-fictional 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, namely 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 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.

Ondaatje has also, since the 1960s, 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 five other works of fiction:

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.

He has two children and is the brother of philanthropist, businessman and author Christopher Ondaatje.




  • 1967: The Dainty Monsters, Toronto: Coach House Press
  • 1969: The Man with Seven Toes, Toronto: Coach House Press
  • 1970: The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-handed Poems (also see "Other" section, 1973, below), Toronto: Anansi ISBN 0887840183 ; New York: Berkeley, 1975
  • 1973: Rat Jelly, Toronto: Coach House Press
  • 1978: Elimination Dance/La danse eliminatoire, Ilderton: Nairn Coldstream; revised edition, Brick, 1980
  • 1979: There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do: Poems, 1963-1978, New York: W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1979 ISBN 0393011917, ISBN 039302100X
    • published as Rat Jelly, and Other Poems, 1963-1978, London, United Kingdom: Marion Boyars, 1980
  • 1984: Secular Love, Toronto: Coach House Press, ISBN 0889102880, ISBN 0393019918 ; New York: W. W. Norton, 1985
  • 1986: All along the Mazinaw: Two Poems (broadside), Milwaukie, Wisconsin: Woodland Pattern
  • 1986: Two Poems, Woodland Pattern, Milwaukie, Wisconsin
  • 1989: The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems, London, United Kingdom: Pan; New York: Knopf, 1991
  • 1998: Handwriting, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart; New York: Knopf, 1999 ISBN 0375405593
  • 2006: The Story, Toronto: House of Anansi, ISBN 0887841945


  • 1971: The Broken Ark, animal verse; Ottawa: Oberon; revised as A Book of Beasts, 1979 ISBN 0887500501
  • 1977: ''Personal Fictions: Stories by Munro, Wiebe, Thomas, and Blaise, Toronto: Oxford University Press ISBN 0195402774
  • 1979: A Book of Beasts, animal verse; Ottawa: Oberon; revision of The Broken Ark, 1971
  • 1979: The Long Poem Anthology, Toronto: Coach House ISBN 0889101779
  • 1989: With Russell Banks and David Young, Brushes with Greatness: An Anthology of Chance Encounters with Greatness, Toronto: Coach House, 1989
  • 1989: Edited with Linda Spalding, The Brick Anthology, illustrated by David Bolduc, Toronto: Coach House Press
  • 1990: From Ink Lake: An Anthology of Canadian Short Stories; New York: Viking ISBN 0394281381
  • 1990: The Faber Book of Contemporary Canadian Short Stories; London, United Kingdom: Faber
  • 2000: Edited with Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding and Linda Spalding, Lost Classics, Toronto: Knopf Canada ISBN 0-676-97299-3 ; New York: Anchor, 2001
  • 2002: Edited and wrote introduction, Mavis Gallant, Paris Stories, New York: New York Review Books


  • 1970: Leonard Cohen (literary criticism), Toronto: McClelland & Stewart
  • 1973: The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (play; based on his poetry; see "Poetry" section, 1970, above), produced in Stratford, Ontario; produced in New York, 1974; produced in London, England, 1984
  • 1979: Claude Glass (literary criticism), Toronto: Coach House Press
  • 1980: Coming through Slaughter (play based on his novel; see "Novels" section, 1976, above), first produced in Toronto
  • 1982: Running in the Family, memoir, New York: W. W. Norton, ISBN 0393016374, ISBN 0771068840
  • 1982: Tin Roof, British Columbia, Canada: Island, ISBN 0919479103, ISBN 0919479936
  • 1987: In the Skin of a Lion (based on his novel), New York: Knopf
  • 1994: Edited with B. P. Nichol and George Bowering, An H in the Heart: A Reader, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart
  • 1996: Wrote introduction, Anthony Minghella, adaptor, The English Patient: A Screenplay, New York: Hyperion Miramax
  • 2002: The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, New York: Knopf ISBN 0676974740
  • 2004: Vintage Ondaatje, ISBN 1400077443

See also

Further reading

  • Barbour, Douglas, Michael Ondaatje, (New York: Twayne, 1993). ISBN 0-8057-8290-7
  • Jewinski, Ed, Michael Ondaatje: Express Yourself Beautifully, (Toronto: ECW, 1994). ISBN 1-55022-189-2


External links

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