March 2, 2000 (Thurs)
8:00 p.m. Reading
4:00 p.m. Seminar, Recital Hall
7:00 p.m., Page Hallwith commentary and Q&A
Although best known as a novelist, Michael Ondaatje's work also encompasses memoir, poetry and film, and reveals a passion for defying conventional form. His landmark novel, The English Patient (1992) won a Canadian Governor General's award for fiction and was selected as co-winner of the Booker Prize, The British Commonwealth's most prestigious literary award--the first and only such honor to be bestowed on a Canadian writer. Later made into the Academy Award-winning film--he explores the history of people history does not explore, intersecting four diverse lives at the end of World War II.
He is the author of four collections of poetry including Handwriting (1999, McClelland & Stewart) and two additional books of fiction: In the Skin of the Lion (1987), which deals with the haves-and-have-nots in 1920s and 30s Toronto; and Coming Through Slaughter (1976), which fictionalizes the life of jazz musician Buddy Bolden.
Ondaatje's nonfiction includes the imaginative memoir of his Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) roots, Running in the Family (1980), which has been called "an autobiographical quest through memory and the tangled scandals and legends of family and a lost colonial world." His interest in crossing genres and forms is best exemplified in The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, a critically acclaimed work which mixes prose, poetry and fictional interviews, which earned him another Canadian Governor-General's Award in 1970.
Ondaatje has been working longest as a poet. He is the author of nine books of verse, including Handwriting (1999), The Cinnamon Peeler: Selected Poems (1991), Secular Love (1984), and There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do: Poems 1963-1978 (1979), which won the Canadian Governor-General's Award for poetry for having "the same whimsical precision and authority one finds in his prose. . .Would that all worlds were this deftly attended."
He taught for many years at York University in Toronto, Canada. He and his wife, Linda Spalding, live in Toronto and edit the literary journal, Brick. His next novel, Anil's Ghost, will be published in 2000 is a riveting mystery set amidst the ravages of Sri Lanka's civil war.
"Writing poetry and fiction, momentarily clutching his Asian heritage then spinning it off like a jitterbug partner, Ondaatje and his imagination can leap continents in a single paragraph." — Voice Literary Supplement
"Mr. Ondaatje is one of North America's finest novelists . . ." — The Wall Street Journal
"Michael Ondaatje's poems read with the same whimsical precision and authority one finds in his prose. . . Would that all worlds were this deftly attended." — Robert Creeley
"Ondaatje is one of the country's best, a formidable craftsman and artist. . .the intensity and originality of [his] language are rare." — Whig-Standard (Kingston)
Linda Spalding's two novels, The Daughters of Captain Cook (1988) and The Paper Wife (1994), explore women thrust into challenging situations as they deal with infidelity, loss, motherhood and cultural displacement in exotic settings. Her nonfiction work includes The Lost Tribe: Birute Galdikas and the Orangutans and her most recent book A Dark Place in the Jungle (1999, Algonquin Books, ISBN 1-5612-226-7) which follows Biruté Galdikas--a woman desperately trying to mother a species to survival--to ultimately tell a complex story of motherhood, the dangers and temptations of eco-tourism, and the arrogance of our human inclination to alter the things we set out to save. Along with Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall, Galdikas is one of the famed "Three Angels" Louis Leakey sent out into the wild nearly four decades ago to study the great apes in their natural habitats. Since she arrived in Borneo in 1971, Galdikas has developed a reputation as the world's foremost defender of orangutans and their endangered habitats.
A Dark Place in the Jungle has stirred up considerable controversy, however, over the ethics, methods and results of the revered orangutan advocate, known as Ibu or "mother" Galdikas to the local sin Boreno. Heralded as a complex and distinguished pastiche of memoir, science writing and travel essay, the book is as much a mediation on the dangers of eco-tourism and the human temptation to alter what we try to save as it is an exploration of motherhood and foster-rearing.
Spalding has traveled and conducted research all over the world, in Mexico, Japan, Sri Lanka, England, France, Italy, Turkey, Germany, and Austria. Spalding's literary criticism has been published in numerous newspapers and journals, including The Guardian, The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, and Canadian Forum and she has edited literary journals, novels, and anthologies. Since 1981, she has worked as an English and writing lecturer at the University of Hawaii, York University, the University of Guelph, Brown University (where she was writer-in-residence in 1991), the University of Toronto, Humber College, and Ryerson. In addition to writing, editing, and teaching, Spalding has pursued additional careers as the director of a child care services agency in Kailua, Hawaii, and manager for Hawaii Public Television.
"a sophisticated mixture of memoir, science writing and travel essay; a disturbing exposé of complex, sometimes counterproductive, attempts to protect an endangered species; and a knowing self-portrait of a perceptive, sympathetic woman trying to make sense of the ambitions and disappointments around her." - Publishers Weekly
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