Michael Ondaatje Biography

Michael Ondaatje is a Canadian novelist and poet whose best known work is the Booker Prize-winning novel, ‘The English Patient’. This biography provides detailed information about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline

Quick Facts

Birthday: September 12, 1943

Nationality: Canadian

Famous: Quotes By Michael Ondaatje Poets

Age: 76 Years, 76 Year Old Males

Sun Sign: Virgo

Also Known As: Philip Michael Ondaatje, Ondaatje, Michael, Kip

Born in: Colombo

Famous as: Canadian poet


Spouse/Ex-: Linda Spalding

father: Mervyn Ondaatje

mother: Doris Gratiaen

siblings: Christopher Ondaatje, Gillian Ondaatje

More Facts

education: 1967 - Queen's University, 1965 - University of Toronto, Bishop's University, Dulwich College, Bishop's College School

awards: Man Booker Prize - 1992
Scotiabank Giller Prize - 2000
Prix Médicis étrange - 2000

Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts - 1984
Governor General's Award for English-language fiction 2007-2000-1992
Governor General's Award for English-language poetry or drama 1979-1970.

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Michael Ondaatje is a Canadian novelist and poet whose best known work is the Booker Prize-winning novel, ‘The English Patient’. Born in Sri Lanka, he moved to England as a teenager before finally settling in Canada. Determined to make a mark as a poet from an early age, he started his writing career alongside his teaching profession, establishing himself as a poet before turning to fictional as well as autobiographical works. His works in poetry and fiction are infused with sensual images, rich language and a deeply metaphorical bent. He has published 13 books of poetry and six novels in his literary career and has been able to achieve a distinct name for himself in the world of literature. One of Canada’s most highly regarded writers, he is known for his writing that blurs the line between prose and poetry, past and present, image and intellect, and thought and feeling. He expresses the internal struggles of his characters using a poetic writing style that depends upon association, startling imagery and intense language. His 1992 novel ‘The English Patient’ is regarded as the most successful and well-crafted work of his career which was also adapted into an Academy Award winning motion picture. Deemed as a literary genius, he is one of Canada's most important contemporary writers and a prominent figure in the world of literature

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Childhood & Early Life
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  • Michael Ondaatje started his career as a teacher at the University of Western Ontario, London, in 1967. In 1971, he became a member of the Department of English at Glendon College, York University, Toronto.
  • In 1967, he published his first collection of poetry titled ‘The Dainty Monsters’, a series of lyrics that associate everyday life with mythology.
  • In 1976, he emerged as a novelist with his book ‘Coming Through Slaughter’. It is a novel about the New Orleans jazz musician Buddy Bolden’s descent into insanity.
  • His other famous works include: ‘Running in the Family’ (1982)—his memoirs about life in Ceylon — and ‘In the Skin of a Lion’ (1987)—a novel about the clash between the rich and poor in early 20th-century Toronto.
  • His 1984 poetry collection titled ‘Secular Love’ contains poetry about the breakup of his marriage. His other lyrical works include ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’ (1989) and ‘Handwriting: Poems’ (1998).
  • In 2000, he published his novel titled ‘Anil’s Ghost’, which has a backdrop of Sri Lanka amid the political violence of the 1980s and 1990s. His more recent works as a novelist include ‘Divisadero’ (2007) and ‘The Cat’s Table’ (2011).
  • Aside from writing, he has also contributed towards short movies and plays. He is also an editor, and has influenced and shaped numerous Canadian authors.
Major Works
  • One of his most celebrated works is the 1970 collection titled ‘The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-Handed Poems’. It is an assortment of poems, prose, photographs, and even comic books, which reflects on the nature of heroism and violence.
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  • Michael Ondaatje Ondaatje's best known work is his 1992 novel ‘The English Patient’, which won him the Booker Prize and was later adapted into an Academy Award winning film. The book is set in Italy at the end of the Second World War, and narrates an epic tale of the physical and emotional damage inflicted by war.
Awards & Achievements
  • In 1966, he received the prestigious ‘E. J. Pratt Medal’ and the ‘Epstein Award’.
  • In 1967, he was awarded the President's Medal by the ‘University of Western Ontario’.
  • In 1971, he won the ‘Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction’ (Canada) for his poem ‘The Collected Works of Billy the Kid’.
  • In 1980, he was presented with the ‘Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction’ (Canada) for his poetry collection ‘There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do’.
  • In 1988, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada (OC). In 1990, he was named a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
  • In 1992, he was awarded the distinguished ‘Booker Prize for Fiction’ for his acclaimed novel ‘The English Patient’. The same year, he also received the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction (Canada) for the aforementioned novel.
  • In 2000, he won the ‘Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize’, ‘Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction’ (Canada), and the ‘Giller Prize’ (Canada) for his novel ‘Anil's Ghost’.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Michael Ondaatje is married to Linda Spalding, a novelist and academic, and the couple has two children.

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