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Michael Ondaatje

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Michael Ondaatje

Ondaatje speaking at Tulane University, 2010
Ondaatje speaking at Tulane University, 2010
BornPhilip Michael Ondaatje
(1943-09-12) 12 September 1943 (age 80)
Colombo, Ceylon
(now Sri Lanka)
Alma materUniversity of Toronto
Queen's University
Bishop's University
Notable works
Notable awardsGovernor General's Award – Poetry
Booker Prize
Giller Prize
Prix Médicis étranger
Order of Canada
St. Louis Literary Award
SpouseLinda Spalding
RelativesChristopher Ondaatje (brother)

Philip Michael Ondaatje CC FRSL (/ɒnˈdɑː/; born 12 September 1943) is a Sri Lankan-born Canadian poet, fiction writer and essayist.[1]

Ondaatje's literary career began with his poetry in 1967, publishing The Dainty Monsters, and then in 1970 the critically acclaimed The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.[2] His novel The English Patient (1992), adapted into a film in 1996[2] won the 2018 Golden Man Booker Prize.[3]

Ondaatje has been "fostering new Canadian writing"[4] with two decades commitment to Coach House Press (ca. 1970–1990), and his editorial credits include the journal Brick, and the Long Poem Anthology (1979), among others.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Ondaatje was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1943, to Major Mervyn Ondaatje and Doris Gratiaen of Tamil and Burgher descent (Dutch and Sinhalese).[4][5] In 1954, he re-joined his mother in England.[4] where he attended Dulwich College. He emigrated to Montreal, Quebec, in 1962,[6] studying at Bishop's College School and Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, for three years.[4][6] He attended the University of Toronto receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1965,[4] followed by a Master of Arts from Queen's University at Kingston.[2]

The poet D. G. Jones noted his poetic ability.[4]

Ondaatje began teaching English at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.[6] In 1971, he taught English literature at Glendon College, York University.[2][6]


Ondaatje 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).[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[7]

In the Skin of a Lion (1987), a novel about early immigrants 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 childhood memoir.

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.[8]

In 2018, his novel Warlight was longlisted for the Booker Prize.[9]


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 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.[10]


In 1988, Ondaatje was made an Officer of the Order of Canada which was later upgraded to grade of Companion in 2016, the highest level of the order[11][12] and two years later a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

In 2005, he received Sri Lanka Ratna, the highest honour given by the Government of Sri Lanka for foreign nationals.

In 2008, he received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[13][14]

In 2016, a new species of spider, Brignolia ondaatjei, discovered in Sri Lanka, was named after him.[15]

Public stand[edit]

In April 2015, Ondaatje was one of several members of PEN American Center who withdrew as literary host when the organization gave its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to Charlie Hebdo. The award came in the wake of the shooting attack on the magazine's Paris offices in January 2015.[16] Ondaatje claimed that, due to the magazine's anti-Islam content, it should not have been honoured. [citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Since the 1960s, Ondaatje has been a poetry editor for Toronto's Coach House Books.[17] Ondaatje and his wife, Linda Spalding, a novelist and academic, co-edit Brick, A Literary Journal, with Michael Redhill, Michael Helm, and Esta Spalding.[10] Ondaatje served as a founding member of the board of trustees of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry from 2000 to 2018.[18] He established the Gratiaen Trust in Sri Lanka that annually awards the Gratiaen Prize.

Ondaatje has two children with his first wife, Canadian artist Kim Ondaatje.[19] His brother Sir Christopher Ondaatje is a philanthropist, businessman and author.[20] Ondaatje's nephew David Ondaatje is a film director and screenwriter, who made the 2009 film The Lodger.[21]



  • 1976: Coming Through Slaughter (also see "Other" section, 1980, below), Toronto: Anansi, ISBN 0-393-08765-4; New York: W. W. Norton, 1977[22]
  • 1987: In the Skin of a Lion, New York: Knopf,[22] ISBN 0-394-56363-8, ISBN 0-14-011309-6
  • 1992: The English Patient, New York: Knopf, ISBN 0-679-41678-1, ISBN 0-679-74520-3[7]
  • 2000: Anil's Ghost, New York: Knopf,[5] ISBN 0-375-41053-8
  • 2007: Divisadero, ISBN 0-307-26635-4 ISBN 9780307266354[8]
  • 2011: The Cat's Table, ISBN 978-0-7710-6864-5, ISBN 0-7710-6864-6[7]
  • 2018: Warlight, ISBN 077107378X, ISBN 978-0771073786

Poetry collections[edit]

  • 1962: Social Call, The Love Story, In Search of Happiness, all featured in The Mitre: Lennoxville: Bishop University Press[22]
  • 1967: The Dainty Monsters, Toronto: Coach House Press[23]
  • 1969: The Man with Seven Toes, Toronto: Coach House Press[23]
  • 1970: The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-Handed Poems (also see "Other" section, 1973, below), Toronto: Anansi[23] ISBN 0-88784-018-3; New York: Berkeley, 1975
  • 1973: Rat Jelly, Toronto: Coach House Press[22]
  • 1978: Elimination Dance/La danse eliminatoire, Ilderton: Nairn Coldstream; revised edition, Brick, 1980[22]
  • 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[22] ISBN 0-393-01191-7, ISBN 0-393-01200-X
    • published as Rat Jelly, and Other Poems, 1963–1978, London, United Kingdom: Marion Boyars, 1980[22]
  • 1984: Secular Love, Toronto: Coach House Press, ISBN 0-88910-288-0, ISBN 0-393-01991-8 ; New York: W. W. Norton, 1985[24]
  • 1986: All along the Mazinaw: Two Poems (broadside), Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Woodland Pattern[22]
  • 1986: Two Poems, Woodland Pattern, Milwaukee, Wisconsin[22]
  • 1989: The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems, London, United Kingdom: Pan; New York: Knopf, 1991[22]
  • 1998: Handwriting, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart; New York: Knopf, 1999[22] ISBN 0-375-40559-3
  • 2006: The Story, Toronto: House of Anansi, ISBN 0-88784-194-5[22]
  • 2024: A Year of Last Things, London: Jonathan Cape, ISBN 9781787335035 [22]


  • 1971: The Broken Ark, animal verse; Ottawa: Oberon; revised as A Book of Beasts, 1979[22] ISBN 0-88750-050-1
  • 1977: Personal Fictions: Stories by Munro, Wiebe, Thomas, and Blaise, Toronto: Oxford University Press[22] ISBN 0-19-540277-4
  • 1979: A Book of Beasts, animal verse; Ottawa: Oberon; revision of The Broken Ark, 1971[22]
  • 1979: The Long Poem Anthology, Toronto: Coach House[22] ISBN 0-88910-177-9
  • 1989: With Russell Banks and David Young, Brushes with Greatness: An Anthology of Chance Encounters with Greatness, Toronto: Coach House, 1989[22]
  • 1989: Edited with Linda Spalding, The Brick Anthology, illustrated by David Bolduc, Toronto: Coach House Press[22]
  • 1990: From Ink Lake: An Anthology of Canadian Short Stories; New York: Viking[22] ISBN 0-394-28138-1
  • 1990: The Faber Book of Contemporary Canadian Short Stories; London, United Kingdom: Faber[22]
  • 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[22]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aaron, Jane (2016). The compact reader. Macmillan Education. p. 63.
  2. ^ a b c d Thesen, Sharon. "Michael Ondaatje". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  3. ^ "Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient wins prestigious Golden Man Booker Prize | CBC Books".
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "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.
  5. ^ a b Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek (January 2005). Comparative Cultural Studies and Michael Ondaatje's Writing. Purdue University Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-55753-378-4.
  6. ^ a b c d "(Philip) Michael Ondaatje." In Gale Online Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale, 2016. Literature Resource Center. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Schillinger, Liesl (14 October 2011), "Michael Ondaatje's Passage From Ceylon". The New York Times.
  8. ^ a b "How Michael Ondaatje and Daniel Brooks made 'Divisadero' into a play". Kate Taylor, Toronto — The Globe and Mail, 4 February 2011.
  9. ^ "Man Booker prize 2018 longlist – in pictures". The Guardian. 23 July 2018. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  10. ^ a b c "Michael Ondaatje". The Morning News, by Robert Birnbaum.
  11. ^ "Order of Canada: Michael Ondaatje, O.C., M.A.", Governor General of Canada website.
  12. ^ "Governor General Announces 100 New Appointments to the Order of Canada as Canada Turns 150". The Governor General of Canada His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  13. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  14. ^ "2008 Summit Highlights Photo". 2008. Poet and Hawaii resident W.S. Merwin meets novelist Michael Ondaatje at the International Achievement Summit.
  15. ^ Selvadurai, Shyam (10 August 2016), "New spider species named for Michael Ondaatje". CBC Books.
  16. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (26 April 2015), "Six PEN Members Decline Gala After Award for Charlie Hebdo", The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  17. ^ "Michael Ondaatje".
  18. ^ "C$80,000 Griffin Poetry Prize Launched by Renowned Literary Figures: Margaret Atwood, Robert Hass, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson and David Young", griffinpoetryprize.com, 6 September 2000.
  19. ^ "Kim Ondaatje".
  20. ^ https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp14390/sir-philip-christopher-ondaatje#:~:text=Financier%2C%20writer%20and%20philanthropist%2C%20Ondaatje,career%20in%20finance%20and%20publishing.
  21. ^ "The Lodger forces out a remake of a remake" c Archived 2009-03-04 at the Wayback Machine, Village Voice, 21 January 2009.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Web page titled "Archive: Michael Ondaatje (1943– )" at the Poetry Foundation website. Retrieved 7 May 2008.
  23. ^ a b c McCrum, Robert (28 August 2011), "Michael Ondaatje: The divided man". The Guardian.
  24. ^ a b Gale, Cengage Learning (2016). A Study Guide for Michael Ondaatje's "The Cinnamon Peeler". Gale, Cengage Learning. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-4103-4284-3.
  25. ^ Films by Michael Ondaatje Archived 21 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading[edit]

  • Comparative Cultural Studies and Michael Ondaatje's Writing. Ed. Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2005. ISBN 1-55753-378-4
  • 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
  • Tötösy de Zepetnek, Steven (斯蒂文·托托西演). 文学研究的合法化: 一种新实用主义 ·整体化和经主 义文学与文化研究方法 (Legitimizing the Study of Literature: A New Pragmatism and the Systemic Approach to Literature and Culture). Trans. Ma Jui-ch'i (马瑞琪翻). Beijing: Peking University Press, 1997. 111–34. ISBN 7-301-03482-2
  • Tötösy de Zepetnek, Steven. "Cultures, Peripheralities, and Comparative Literature." in Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek (ed.). Comparative Literature: Theory, Method, Application. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998. 150–65. ISBN 90-420-0534-3

External links[edit]