Michael Ondaatje Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

(Phillip) Michael Ondaatje was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon), on September 12, 1943. Ondaatje grew up surrounded by his extended family on an estate in Kegalle owned by his paternal grandfather, a wealthy tea planter. In 1952, four years after his parents’ divorce, Ondaatje moved to England with his mother, sister, and brother to attend Dulwich College, a public school with a strong academic program and a long literary tradition.

At the age of nineteen, Ondaatje followed his brother, Christopher, to Montreal, Canada, then moved to Lennoxville in eastern Quebec, where he attended Bishop’s University, majoring in English and history; it was there that he first began to write. In 1964, Ondaatje married the artist Kim Jones, with whom he has two children, and transferred from Bishop’s University to the University of Toronto, where he earned his B.A. in 1965. That same year he was awarded the Ralph Gustafson Poetry Award, the first of many awards recognizing his work. In 1967, Ondaatje received an M.A. from Queen’s University, published his first collection of poetry, The Dainty Monsters, and began teaching English at the University of Western Ontario.

In 1969, Ondaatje’s second volume of poetry, The Man with Seven Toes, was published, followed a year later by the short critical work Leonard Cohen and The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left Handed Poems. During this time, he also...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

As a postcolonial author, Michael Ondaatje has risked being misunderstood by compatriots as well as those from other former colonies who have accused him of a preoccupation with technique and aesthetics at the expense of involvement in politics. What is certain, however, is that many of Ondaatje’s novels show that he remains unafraid to explore unapproved versions of history and reveal an increasing ability to merge aesthetics with politics as he describes the ways formerly colonized peoples construct a viable cultural identity of their own.

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Born in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Philip Michael Ondaatje seldom referenced his upbringing in print until his 1982 “fictional memoir,” Running in the Family. Ondaatje describes his early days as a “great childhood,” although his parents divorced when he was two years old and he had little contact with his father. As an adult he completely lost contact with his father.

After moving with his mother and siblings to London at age eleven, Ondaatje completed school at Dulwich College. His writing career began with his move to Canada in 1962 at age nineteen; he attended Bishop’s College in Quebec, and the teachings of Professor Arthur Moyter inspired Ondaatje’s love for literature. In 1964, he married thirty-four-year-old artist Kim Jones, originally the wife of one of his professors, and they had two children. For years, they would spend their summers at Blue Roof Farm near Kingston, entertaining critics, artists, family, and friends. Ondaatje’s sense of humor and fondness for practical jokes became legendary. The couple legally separated in 1980, and Ondaatje then began a relationship with Linda Spalding, whom he met in Hawaii; they subsequently shared a home in Toronto with her two children.

By 1965, Ondaatje had received the Ralph Gustafson Poetry Award, and by 1966 his poems were included in New Wave Canada. He received a B.A. from the University of Toronto (1968) and an M.A. from Queen’s University....

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Michael Ondaatje was born Philip Michael Ondaatje on a tea plantation in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Philip Mervyn Ondaatje, his father, was descended from a wealthy family that can be traced back to 1600. By the time Ondaatje was born, however, his father had sold most of the family’s holdings; two years later (1945) his father and mother, Enid Doris Gratiaen, were divorced. His mother went to England and sent him to St. Thomas’s College Boys’ School in Colombo, a school modeled on English boarding schools. By 1952, his mother had earned enough money to bring him to England, where he continued his education at Dulwich College before he immigrated in 1962 to Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada. There he attended Bishop’s...

(The entire section is 365 words.)