Michael Ondaatje Biography

(Canada's Most Renowned Living Authors)

Birthday: September 12, 1943 (Virgo)

Born In: Colombo, Sri Lanka

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

Quick Facts

Canadian Celebrities Born In September

Also Known As: Philip Michael Ondaatje

Age: 80 Years, 80 Year Old Males


Spouse/Ex-: Linda Spalding

father: Mervyn Ondaatje

mother: Doris Gratiaen

siblings: Christopher Ondaatje, Gillian Ondaatje

Born Country: Sri Lanka

Quotes By Michael Ondaatje Poets

Ancestry: Dutch Canadian, Sri Lankan Canadian

Notable Alumni: Bishop's University, Queen's University

More Facts

education: University Of Toronto, Queen's University, Bishop's University

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.

  • 1

    What inspired Michael Ondaatje to write "The English Patient?"

    Michael Ondaatje was inspired by the real-life story of a burned pilot he read about during World War II, which became the basis for his novel "The English Patient."

  • 2

    How does Michael Ondaatje incorporate themes of identity and memory in his works?

    Ondaatje often explores themes of identity and memory in his writing by delving into characters' pasts and how they shape their present selves.

  • 3

    What is the significance of the title "In the Skin of a Lion?"

    The title "In the Skin of a Lion" by Ondaatje symbolizes the idea of stepping into someone else's perspective or experience, reflecting themes of empathy and understanding.

  • 4

    How does Michael Ondaatje's background influence his writing style?

    Ondaatje's multicultural background, having been born in Sri Lanka and lived in various countries, influences his writing style by incorporating diverse perspectives and themes of displacement and belonging.

  • 5

    What literary techniques does Michael Ondaatje often use in his novels?

    Ondaatje frequently employs nonlinear narratives, poetic language, and vivid imagery in his novels to create a rich, immersive reading experience for his audience.

Childhood & Early Life
Michael Ondaatje was born on September 12, 1943, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Mervyn Ondaatje, and his wife, Doris Gratiaen. He has an elder brother, Christopher Ondaatje, who went on to become a successful entrepreneur.
After receiving his initial education at St. Thomas' College in Colombo, he and his mother moved to England in 1954, where he resumed his education at Dulwich College in London.
From 1962 to 1964, he studied at the Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada. In 1965, he obtained his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, and went on to complete his M.A. from Queen's University, in Kingston, Ontario, in 1967.
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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.
Facts About Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje is not only a celebrated author but also a filmmaker. He directed a documentary film called "The Clinton Special."

Ondaatje is known for his love of jazz music and often incorporates musical references in his writing, showcasing his passion for the art form.

In addition to his success as a writer, Ondaatje is also an accomplished poet, with several poetry collections to his name that showcase his lyrical and evocative style.

Ondaatje is a dedicated supporter of the arts and has been involved in various initiatives to promote literature and cultural exchange, demonstrating his commitment to fostering creativity and expression.

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