No taint of the superficial: Michael Ondaatje reads at Maryland

Michael Ondaatje visited the University of Maryland this week for the Artist-in-Residence program. Photo by Colby Smith for The Writers' Bloc.

By Colby Smith

Staff Writer

“Each of his books is a wonderful journey,” said novelist and University of Maryland faculty member Howard Norman on Tuesday.

Norman was talking about visiting writer and Artist-in-Residence Michael Ondaatje.

“His works contain impeccably composed sentences, intellectual elegance throughout and the masterful art of storytelling,” Norman said.

Ondaatje, who visited the university for two days as part of the English Department’s Artists-in-Residence program, read part of his work Tuesday in Ulrich Recital Hall.

The event officially began with a reception in the main foyer of Tawes Hall. Faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students gathered to share light refreshments before entering for Ondaatje’s reading.

After Norman’s introduction, Ondaatje began by reading three of his poems: “The Great Tree,” “Step” and “Last Ink.” Though Ondaatje is best known for his works of fiction, he has been regularly publishing books of poems since his first book, “The Dainty Monsters”, in 1967. He is also well-known for his 1992 novel “The English Patient”, which was subsequently adapted into an Academy Award-winning film starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche.

Ondaatje also read excerpts from two of his novels. The first, “Anil’s Ghost”, follows the life of Sri Lankan forensic anthropologist Anil Tissera, a character that Ondaatje said he based on the personality of a real Sri Lankan anthropologist, though he refused to provide a name.

“He was very quiet,” said sophomore and Writers’ House student Norine McKee, noting Ondaatje’s soft-spoken delivery and small stage presence.

Ondaatje also read from his most recent novel, “The Cat’s Table”, which tells the tale of a boy who stows aboard a freighter bearing from Sri Lanka to Great Britain.

“I have made such a voyage,” Ondaatje joked. “But I promise you — fiction!”

The evening concluded with a book-signing.

“He’s such a beautiful writer,” said Liz Arnold, a poet herself and another member of the English Department’s MFA faculty. “People hear his name and only think of “The English Patient” movie. He really made me want to read his new book.”

For more information on Michael Ondaatje, visit his official website.

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