Michael Ondaatje

Philip Michael Ondaatje CC FRSL (/ɒnˈdɑː/; born 12 September 1943), is a Sri Lankan-born Canadian poet, fiction writer, essayist,[1] 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.[2] Ondaatje is also an Officer of the Order of Canada, recognizing him as one of Canada's most renowned living authors.[2][3]

Michael Ondaatje

Ondaatje speaking at Tulane University, 2010
BornPhilip Michael Ondaatje
(1943-09-12) 12 September 1943
Colombo, Ceylon
Alma materUniversity of Toronto
Queen's University
Bishop's University
Notable works
  • The English Patient
  • Running in the Family
  • Divisadero
  • In the Skin of a Lion
  • Coming Through Slaughter
  • Warlight
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)

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] 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.[2] In 2018, Ondaatje won the Golden Man Booker Prize for The English Patient.[4]

In addition to his literary writing, Ondaatje has been an important force in "fostering new Canadian writing"[5] 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.[5]

Early life and education

Ondaatje was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, in 1943; he is of Dutch and Sinhalese ancestry,[5][6] making him a Burgher. His parents separated when he was an infant; he then lived with relatives until 1954 when he joined his mother in England.[5] Before moving to England, he attended S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia in Colombo. While in England, Ondaatje pursued secondary education at Dulwich College; he then emigrated to Montreal, Quebec, in 1962.[7] After relocating to Canada, Ondaatje studied at Bishop's College School and Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, for three years.[5][7] In his final year[5] he attended the University of Toronto where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1965.[5] In 1967, he received a Master of Arts from Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario.[2]

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.[5]

After his formal schooling, Ondaatje began teaching English at the University of Western Ontario in London.[7] In 1971, reluctant to get his PhD, he left his position at Western Ontario and went on to teach English literature at Glendon College, York University.[2][7]


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.[8] 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 semi-fictional memoir of his childhood in Ceylon.

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.[9]

In July 2018 his novel Warlight was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.[10]


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.[11]


On 11 July 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.[12][13] 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 2008, he received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[14][15]

In 2016, a new species of spider, Brignolia ondaatjei, discovered in Sri Lanka, was named after him.[16]

Public stand

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.[17] Ondaatje and several other hosts condemned the attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo, but claimed that due to the magazine's history of anti-Islam content it should not have been honoured.

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.[11] 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 served as a founding member of the board of trustees of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry from 2000 to 2018.[18]

Ondaatje has two children with his first wife, Canadian artist Kim Ondaatje. His brother Sir 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.[19]



  • 1976: Coming Through Slaughter (also see "Other" section, 1980, below), Toronto: Anansi ISBN 0-393-08765-4 ; New York: W. W. Norton, 1977[20]
  • 1987: In the Skin of a Lion, New York: Knopf,[20] 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[8]
  • 2000: Anil's Ghost, New York: Knopf,[6] ISBN 0-375-41053-8
  • 2007: Divisadero, ISBN 0-307-26635-4 ISBN 9780307266354[9]
  • 2011: The Cat's Table, ISBN 978-0-7710-6864-5, ISBN 0-7710-6864-6[8]
  • 2018: Warlight, ISBN 077107378X, ISBN 978-0771073786

Poetry collections

  • 1962: Social Call, The Love Story, In Search of Happiness, all featured in The Mitre: Lennoxville: Bishop University Press[20]
  • 1967: The Dainty Monsters, Toronto: Coach House Press[21]
  • 1969: The Man with Seven Toes, Toronto: Coach House Press[21]
  • 1970: The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-Handed Poems (also see "Other" section, 1973, below), Toronto: Anansi[21] ISBN 0-88784-018-3 ; New York: Berkeley, 1975
  • 1973: Rat Jelly, Toronto: Coach House Press[20]
  • 1978: Elimination Dance/La danse eliminatoire, Ilderton: Nairn Coldstream; revised edition, Brick, 1980[20]
  • 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[20] 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[20]
  • 1984: Secular Love, Toronto: Coach House Press, ISBN 0-88910-288-0, ISBN 0-393-01991-8 ; New York: W. W. Norton, 1985[22]
  • 1986: All along the Mazinaw: Two Poems (broadside), Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Woodland Pattern[20]
  • 1986: Two Poems, Woodland Pattern, Milwaukee, Wisconsin[20]
  • 1989: The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems, London, United Kingdom: Pan; New York: Knopf, 1991[20]
  • 1998: Handwriting, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart; New York: Knopf, 1999[20] ISBN 0-375-40559-3
  • 2006: The Story, Toronto: House of Anansi, ISBN 0-88784-194-5[20]


  • 1971: The Broken Ark, animal verse; Ottawa: Oberon; revised as A Book of Beasts, 1979[20] ISBN 0-88750-050-1
  • 1977: Personal Fictions: Stories by Munro, Wiebe, Thomas, and Blaise, Toronto: Oxford University Press[20] ISBN 0-19-540277-4
  • 1979: A Book of Beasts, animal verse; Ottawa: Oberon; revision of The Broken Ark, 1971[20]
  • 1979: The Long Poem Anthology, Toronto: Coach House[20] 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[20]
  • 1989: Edited with Linda Spalding, The Brick Anthology, illustrated by David Bolduc, Toronto: Coach House Press[20]
  • 1990: From Ink Lake: An Anthology of Canadian Short Stories; New York: Viking[20] ISBN 0-394-28138-1
  • 1990: The Faber Book of Contemporary Canadian Short Stories; London, United Kingdom: Faber[20]
  • 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[20]


  • 1966: The Offering - co-producer and co-screenwriter
  • 1970: Leonard Cohen (literary criticism), Toronto: McClelland & Stewart[20]
  • 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[20]
  • 1979: Claude Glass (literary criticism), Toronto: Coach House Press[20]
  • 1980: Coming through Slaughter (play based on his novel; see "Novels" section, 1976, above), first produced in Toronto[20]
  • 1982: Running in the Family, memoir, New York: W. W. Norton,[22] ISBN 0-393-01637-4, ISBN 0-7710-6884-0
  • 1982: Tin Roof, British Columbia, Canada: Island,[20] ISBN 0-919479-10-3, ISBN 0-919479-93-6
  • 1987: In the Skin of a Lion (based on his novel), New York: Knopf[20]
  • 1994: Edited with B. P. Nichol and George Bowering, An H in the Heart: A Reader, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart[20]
  • 1996: Wrote introduction, Anthony Minghella, adaptor, The English Patient: A Screenplay, New York: Hyperion Miramax[20]
  • 2002: The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, New York: Knopf[11] ISBN 0-676-97474-0
  • 2002: Films by Michael Ondaatje[23]
  • 2004: Vintage Ondaatje,[20] ISBN 1-4000-7744-3

See also

  • Ondaatje Letters
  • Sri Lankan Chetties
  • Christopher Ondaatje
  • Kim Ondaatje
  • Pearl Ondaatje


  1. Aaron, Jane (2016). The compact reader. Macmillan Education. p. 63.
  2. Thesen, Sharon. "Michael Ondaatje". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  3. "Michael Ondaatje – Literature". literature.britishcouncil.org. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  4. https://www.cbc.ca/books/michael-ondaatje-s-the-english-patient-wins-prestigious-golden-man-booker-prize-1.4738593
  5. "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.
  6. 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.
  7. "(Philip) Michael Ondaatje." In Gale Online Encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale, 2016. Literature Resource Center (accessed 30 November 2016)
  8. "Michael Ondaatje's Passage From Ceylon". New York Times, By LIESL SCHILLINGER 14 October 2011
  9. "How Michael Ondaatje and Daniel Brooks made 'Divisadero' into a play". Kate Taylor, Toronto — The Globe and Mail, 4 February 2011
  10. "Man Booker prize 2018 longlist – in pictures". The Guardian. 23 July 2018. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  11. "Michael Ondaatje". The Morning News, by Robert Birnbaum
  12. "Order of Canada: Michael Ondaatje, O.C., M.A.", Governor General of Canada website.
  13. "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.
  14. "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  15. "2008 Summit Highlights Photo". 2008. Poet and Hawaii resident W.S. Merwin meets novelist Michael Ondaatje at the International Achievement Summit.
  16. "New spider species named for Michael Ondaatje". Shyam Selvadurai CBC Books. 10 August 2016
  17. Schuessler, Jennifer, "Six PEN Members Decline Gala After Award for Charlie Hebdo", New York Times, 26 April 2015. Retrieved 7 May 2015.
  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. "The Lodger forces out a remake of a remake", Village Voice, 21 January 2009
  20. Web page titled "Archive: Michael Ondaatje (1943– )" at the Poetry Foundation website, accessed 7 May 2008
  21. "Michael Ondaatje: The divided man". The Guardian, Robert McCrum, 28 August 2011
  22. 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.
  23. Films by Michael Ondaatje Archived 21 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

  • 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." Comparative Literature: Theory, Method, Application. By Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998. 150-65. ISBN 90-420-0534-3

See also

  • List of Bishop's College School alumni
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