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Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, to deliver William Gifford Lecture. Wednesday, October 24, 2007

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — "Each of his books is filled with passages of such finesse and vividness that they become part of us. He is a writer whose best paragraphs hover just over the page, then fly into the mind."

That's what The New Yorker magazine wrote about Michael Ondaatje. But this glowing review is just one of many enjoyed by the critically acclaimed author of The English Patient. Though he is primarily known as a novelist, Ondaatje has also influenced an entire generation of writers and readers through his memoirs, poetry, and contribution to film.

On Wednesday, October 24, at 6:00 pm, Ondaatje will deliver the annual William Gifford Lecture in the Villard Room of the College Center. The event is free and open to the public.

In addition to his memoir of his Sri Lankan childhood, Running in the Family (1982), Ondaatje has published 13 books of poetry, including the Canadian Governor General's Award for The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970) and There's a Trick With a Knife I'm Learning to Do: Poems 1973-1978 (1979).

It is Ondaatje's unique sense of non-linear perspective, found in award-winning novels like Coming Through Slaughter (1976), In the Skin of a Lion (1987), and Anil's Ghost (2000) that pervades his work and continues to fascinate audiences. In The English Patient (1992), he explored the divergent paths of four lives at the end of World War II, understanding their changes through interconnected moments. The novel became something of a phenomenon, winning both the Booker Prize for fiction—the British Commonwealth's highest literary honor—and the Governor General's Award, and in 1996, it was made into an Academy Award-winning film. His latest novel, Divisadero (2007), chronicles the disintegrating relationship between a father and his daughters.

Born in Sri Lanka in 1943, Ondaatje attended school in England before moving to Canada in 1962. After receiving his BA from the University of Toronto and his MA from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, he taught at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, and until 1988, taught English literature at York University and Glendon College in Toronto.

Since the 1960s, Ondaatje has also been a poetry editor at Toronto's independent press Coach House Books. Along with his wife, the novelist Linda Spalding, he is also a co-editor of Brick, A Literary Journal.

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Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Monday, October 1, 2007