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Alumni Portraits
Michael Ondaatje
Current Industry: Literature
Bachelor of Arts (BA) 1965, University College

Michael Ondaatje is an internationally renowned author of about 30 novels and works of poetry, including The English Patient, which won the Booker Prize and was made into an Oscar-winning movie, In the Skin of a Lion, Anil’s Ghost and his latest, The Cat’s Table.

Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1943, Ondaatje came to Canada in 1962 and after graduating from U of T in 1965 settled in Toronto and taught English at Glendon College, York University.

“I think one of the things about being a writer… is that you are always stepping into dangerous territory,” Ondaatje has said. “You are approaching all your fears. I have a terrible fear of vertigo, so what do I write about? I write about a bridge builder in Toronto (In the Skin of a Lion).

He went on to say in this PEN interview: “I guess what drives me when I am writing a book is not, for instance, an overall plot that I’ve prepared. It’s finding someone you can live with for four or five years on a page. Then that person meets somebody else and you have a community of people who interact. The real pleasure of writing is making a portrait of that person in the most complex way – and the most compassionate way.”

Ondaatje has been involved with Toronto’s Coach House Press as a poetry editor since the 1960s. He and his wife, novelist and academic Linda Spalding, are also among the editors of Brick, A literary journal.

He was made an officer in the Order of Canada in 1988 and two years later a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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