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.