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Poet, writer and sometime documentary director Michael Ondaatje has written a number of books including several award-winning novels, a memoir and a study of film editing, The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film (2002). He remains best-known, however, for The English Patient (1992), which not only won him the Man Booker Prize for Literature but was made into a multiple-award-winning film of the same name by Anthony Minghella.
Born into a well-off family in Sri Lanka, that life of privilege came to an end when his parents divorced while he was still a child due to his father's alcoholism. His mother moved to England and spent several years working to save up the passage to have him join her, and he spent several weeks alone on a ship traveling to England, a voyage he would reimagine in his novel The Cat's Table (2011). His mother worked hard in hotels to support her sons and sent Ondaatje to a good boarding school, Dulwich College. He enjoyed his time there but longed for Sri Lanka. That said, Ondaatje proved to be more comfortable after following his brother Christopher to Canada for college.
Ondaatje married young, his wife was an artist named Kim Jones who was divorced and several years his senior. The two were married for 16 years and had two children together. In that time, Ondaatje began his career as a poet and directed the documentary short "The Sons of Captain Poetry" (1970) about the poet B.P. Nichol, followed by "The Clinton Special: A Film About the Farm Show" (1974), a documentary about a play. He then moved into novel writing with the hybrid of poetry and prose that related the story of a New Orleans jazz musician, Coming Through Slaughter (1976). In 1980, he divorced his first wife and later married writer Linda Spalding.
Publishing The English Patient catapulted him to a degree of fame and success he had not previously experienced. In addition to winning the Man Booker Prize for Literature, the book was adapted the film "The English Patient" (1996) by Anthony Minghella, who worked closely with Ondaatje on the screenplay. Minghella won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and the film swept the Oscars in 1997 with a total of nine awards as well as multiple Golden Globes and BAFTAs. Besides the novels Anil's Ghost (2000) and Divisadero (2007), Ondaatje wrote a book about film editor and sound designer Walter Murch, who also won two Oscars for his work on "The English Patient," called The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. In 2011, he published his sixth novel, The Cat's Table, which drew in part on his solo childhood ship journey from Sri Lanka to England.
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