(Philip) Michael Ondaatje 1943–
Canadian poet, novelist, dramatist, critic, editor, and filmmaker.
Ondaatje originally established his literary reputation as a poet, and his verse publications include The Dainty Monsters (1967), Man with Seven Toes (1969), and Rat Jelly (1973). Critics note that his subjects, which range from the violent and disturbing to the domestic and personal, are consistently presented in musical, sound-conscious language. Ondaatje's most acclaimed literary achievement to date is The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970), which won a Canadian Governor General's Award. Billy the Kid combines both poetry and prose in a fictionalized biography which celebrates the life and legend of the famed American outlaw.
Ondaatje has also received critical acclaim as a novelist. Coming Through Slaughter (1976), his first novel, again reflects his fascination with extraordinary personality types. In this work, Ondaatje employs what William Logan has termed "creative mythologizing" to depict the tormented life of another legendary figure, jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden. Coming Through Slaughter is similar to Billy the Kid in its blend of poetic and prose forms, but Ondaatje also uses such quasi-factual journalistic material as interviews and documented reports.
Ondaatje's recent work, Running in the Family (1982), is set in Ceylon, where Ondaatje was born, and combines a travelogue with memoirs of his youth. In it Ondaatje attempts an imaginative reconstruction of his family history, with particular emphasis on the eccentric personalities of his maternal grandmother and his father. While some critics have remarked that in this work his prose is overly poetic and obscure in places, others have praised its innovative structure and Ondaatje's descriptive power.
(See also CLC, Vol. 14 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)