Michael Ondaatje was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1943 in the midst of World War II. He moved with his mother, brother, and sister to England in 1952 before attending Bishop University in Quebec, Canada. He received his BA from the University of Toronto in 1965 and his MA from Queens University in 1967.
Ondaatje's best known work is The English Patient, which won the Booker Prize upon its publication in 1992 and was adapted into a film by Anthony Minghella that won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1997.
Ondaatje began his writing career by publishing poetry, first in 1967 with the book Dainty Monsters. Ondaatje's poetry became an important part of his writing style, allowing him to experiment with fragmented consciousness, juxtaposition of unlike images, and experimental rhythm. He went on to publish The Collected Works of Billy the Kid in 1970, a hybrid work of poetry and novel, along with Coming Through Slaughter in 1976, another hybrid work, about the life of jazz pioneer, Billy Bolden, set in New Orleans in 1911.
Ondaatje considers In the Skin of a Lion (1987), which documents a Macedonian immigrant community in Toronto, his first real novel. Like Coming Through Slaughter, In the Skin of the Lion is minimal in dialogue, and blends documentary with fiction - establishing a precedent for a concern with historical accuracy found in much of Ondaatje's future work.
In the Skin of Lion presents characters whose lives continue, chronologically, in The English Patient: Caravaggio and Hana, as they move into the 1940s and through World War II, and Patrick, the protagonist of In the Skin of a Lion, who dies in World War II. This is in keeping with Ondaatje's stated feeling that his characters live on after he has finished writing them.
Ondaatje has written several Hollywood screenplays, including The Clinton Special, Sons of Captain Poetry, and Carry On Crime and Punishment. He recently collaborated with acclaimed editor Walter Mirch on a book about the editing process, and he wrote a series of critical works on songwriter Leonard Cohen. Ondaatje currently lives in Toronto with his wife, novelist/editor Linda Spalding. Ondaatje's awards include the Ralph Gustafson Award, the Epstein Award, the President's Medal from the University of Ontario, the Canadian Governor-General's Award for Literature (twice), the Canada-Australia prize, and the Booker Prize.
Study Guides on Works by Michael Ondaatje
The English Patient, published in 1992, is Ondaatje's most famous and critically acclaimed work. The novel won Ondaatje the prestigious Booker McConnell Prize in 1992, making him the only Sri Lankan writer ever to receive the honor. In 1996, Saul...
In the Skin of a Lion covers the years 1913 – 1938, and is set in the city of Toronto and surrounding rural areas. It is a time of industrialization and growth for Toronto, a change that could not be accomplished without the labor of immigrants.