Michael Ondaatje, the first Canadian winner of the prestigious Booker Prize in 1992, is perhaps most famous for the work that won him that prize, a fictional World War romantic narrative since made into a film called The English Patient. While it is true to say that he is the first-ever recipient of the Booker Prize, he is also the first ever winner born in Ceylon(now called Sri Lanka). Born during World War II on 12th September 1943, Ondaatje emigrated to Canada at the age of 19 after spending a spell in England. There he attended the University of Toronoto where he gained a BA, afterwhich he obtained a Masters degree at Queens University.
Ondaatje's first published work was a collection of poetry entitled The Dainty Monsters (1967) which he followed up with The Man With Seven Toes (1969) and Rat Jelly (1973). His first literary award came his way in 1970 at the age of 27, when he won the Canadian Governor General' Award for his collection of poetry, entitled The Collected Work of Billy the Kid written about the legendary outlaw. He received a second Governor General's Award in 1979 for an earlier collection of poetry, There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to do (1963 - 1978).
His work is characterised by a bleakly evocative narrative and minimalist dialogue, blending documentary and fictional accounts of real characters, such as his Coming Through Slaughter (1976) about the life of 1930's jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden and In the Skin of a Lion, a story about 1930's Canadian Immigrants. Jazz and cinema, in fact, have been recurring themes in Ondaatje's work and the author himself has written a number of screenplays and worked on films previously.
Ondaatje's screen credits include The Clinton Special, Sons of Captain Poetry and Carry On Crime and Punishment. His critical work on poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen has also been well recieved. Other works of poetry by Ondaatje include Secular Poems and the Cinammon Peeler. Perhaps most informative for those looking to obtain an understanding of Ondaatje's life is his work Running in the Family, a biographical account of his early life in colonial Ceylon.