Michael Ondaatje, poet, novelist, and noted editor and filmmaker, was born in Sri Lanka in 1943, spent his teenage years in England, and moved to Canada in 1962 where he graduated from the University of Toronto and then Queen’s University, Ontario. He taught English Literature at York University, Toronto, from 1971 to 1990. While mostly known and admired as a novelist, due in part to the worldwide success of The English Patient that was awarded the Booker Prize in 1992 and was later made into the Academy Award-winning film, Ondaatje first won critical acclaim as a poet. Numerous collections include The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-Handed Poems (1970), There’s a Trick With a Knife I’m Learning To Do: Poems, 1963-1978 (1979), both of which won the Canadian Governor General’s award; The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems (1989); and Handwriting (1998).
Ondaatje has written six novels including Coming Through the Slaughter (1976) which won the Canada First Novel Award, Anil’s Ghost (2000) and Divisadero (2007) both of which received the Governor General’s Award, and his recently released The Cat’s Table (2011). Recognition of his work has been universal and includes the Giller Prize, (Canada), the Prix Medicis, (France), the Kiriyama Prize, (U.S.), The Irish Times International Fiction Prize, (Ireland), and the Booker Prize, (England).
With his wife, Linda Spalding, and others, Ondaatje founded and continues to co-edit Brick, A Literary Journal, and he has been poetry editor of Toronto’s independent small press, Coach House Books, for over forty years.
Here is an excerpt from the book jacket of The Cat’s Table:
In the early 1950’s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England — a ‘castle that was to cross the sea’. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly ‘Cat’s Table’ with an eccentric group of grown-ups and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys become involved in the worlds and stories of the adults around them, tumbling from one adventure and delicious discovery to another, ‘bursting all over the place like freed mercury’. And at night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner — his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them for ever. The Cat’s Table is a vivid, poignant and thrilling book, full of Ondaatje’s trademark set-pieces and breathtaking images: a story told with a child’s sense of wonder by a novelist at the very height of his powers.
Michael Ondaatje elsewhere on Lannan.orgMichael Ondaatje with Carolyn Forché, (Events)
Toni Morrison and Michael Ondaatje with Robert Hass, (Events)
Michael Ondaatje PodcastsJohn Berger in conversation with Michael Ondaatje, Episode 7 - Video
Michael Ondaatje with Carolyn Forché, 15 February 2012 – Audio
Michael Ondaatje with Carolyn Forché, Reading, 15 February 2012 – Video
Michael Ondaatje with Carolyn Forché, Conversation, 15 February 2012 – Video