Arts and Culture / News

DU to host reading by prize-winning author Michael Ondaatje

Booker Prize-winning writer Michael Ondaatje — celebrated for what one critic calls “the muscular exuberance of his storytelling” and “the gem-like intelligence of his language” — will read from his work at 7:30 p.m. March 4 in Sturm Hall’s Davis Auditorium. Sponsored by the Creative Writing Program and the English department, the event is free and open to the public.

A prolific novelist, poet and memoirist, Ondaatje is best known for The English Patient, which won the Booker Prize in 1992 and was made into an Academy Award-winning film.

“This is a rare opportunity to bring in someone so renowned,” says English Professor and Creative Writing Program Director Brian Kiteley, noting that Ondaatje’s experimental work should prove of great interest to DU’s writing community. “He fits the aesthetic of the English department; his work is a little edgy and a little avant-garde.

“He crosses boundaries all the time,” Kiteley adds. Consider Coming Through Slaughter, which, he explains, “reads like a documentary poem.” Set in New Orleans and drawing upon musical motifs, it is the fictionalized account of the last months in the life of jazz artist Buddy Bolden.

Ondaatje’s form-shifting works also reflect wide-ranging interests and preoccupations. The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, for example, mixes verse with poetic prose to recount the tale of outlaw William Bonney. The novel Anil’s Ghost ponders sectarian strife in Sri Lanka through the experiences of a forensic anthropologist investigating government-sanctioned violence.

A Canadian citizen, Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka and schooled in England. He moved to Canada in the early 1960s and has been part of that country’s literary culture ever since. He has published more than a dozen books of poetry, two of which won the Governor General’s Award, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes. The English Patient introduced him to the bestseller lists and ensured that subsequent works would be widely reviewed and read.

Ondaatje’s most recent contribution to bedside tables, Divisadero, is set, in part, in northern California and grew out of a semester he spent teaching at Stanford. He has adapted Divisadero for the stage, and the play debuted in Toronto in early February.

A forthcoming novel, The Cat’s Table, is scheduled for release in fall 2011.

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