Ian Williams

Author of Fiction, Nonfiction & Poetry
Professor of Creative Writing
Travels from: Toronto

Disorientation is so honest, vulnerable, courageous and funny that it left me dying to sit down over a long coffee with Ian Williams. Make that two lattes, and I’m buying!”—Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes

Ian Williams is the author of six books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. His latest book, Disorientation, considers the impact of racial encounters on ordinary people. It won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was published in Canada, the US, the UK, and Italy. His poetry collection, Word Problems, converts the ethical and political issues of our time into math and grammar problems. It won the Raymond Souster Award. His previous collection, Personals, was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award. His short story collection, Not Anyone’s Anything, won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the best first collection of short fiction in Canada. His first book, You Know Who You Are, was a finalist for the ReLit Poetry Prize. He is a trustee for the Griffin Poetry Prize.

Williams completed his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. After several years teaching poetry in the School of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Williams returned to the University of Toronto as a tenured professor of English. He was the 2014-2015 Canadian Writer-in-Residence for the University of Calgary’s Distinguished Writers Program. He has held fellowships or residencies from Vermont Studio Center, the Banff Center, Cave Canem, and the National Humanities Center. In 2022, he will be the Visiting Fellow at the American Library in Paris.

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Disorientation

Europa Compass |
Nonfiction

Bestselling Scotiabank Giller Award-winning writer Ian Williams brings a fresh point of view and new insights to the urgent conversation on race and racism in these illuminating essays born from his own experience as a Black man in the world.

With that one eloquent word, disorientation, Ian Williams captures the impact of racial encounters on racialized people–the whiplash of race that occurs while minding one’s own business. Sometimes the consequences are only irritating, but sometimes they are deadly. Spurred by the police killings and street protests of 2020, Williams offers a perspective that is distinct from that of U.S. writers addressing similar themes. Williams has lived in Trinidad (where he was never the only Black person in the room), in Canada (where he often was), and in the United States (where as a Black man from the Caribbean, he was a different kind of “only”). He brings these formative experiences fruitfully to bear on his theme in Disorientation.

Inspired by the essays of James Baldwin, in which the personal becomes the gateway to larger ideas, Williams explores such matters as the unmistakable moment when a child realizes they are Black; the ten characteristics of institutional whiteness; how friendship forms a bulwark against being a target of racism; the meaning and uses of a Black person’s smile; and blame culture–or how do we make meaningful change when no one feels responsible for the systemic structures of the past.

Disorientation is a book for all readers who believe that civil conversation on even the most charged subjects is possible. Employing his vast and astonishing gift for language, Ian Williams gives readers an open, honest, and personal perspective on an undeniably important subject.

Word Problems

Coach House Books |
Poetry

Frustrated by how tough the issues of our time are to solve – racial inequality, our pernicious depression, the troubled relationships we have with other people – Ian Williams revisits the seemingly simple questions of grade school for inspiration: if Billy has five nickels and Jane has three dimes, how many Black men will be murdered by police? He finds no satisfaction, realizing that maybe there are no easy answers to ineffable questions.

Williams uses his characteristic inventiveness to find not just new answers but new questions, reconsidering what poetry can be, using math and grammar lessons to shape poems that invite us to participate. Two long poems cut through the text like vibrating basenotes, curiosities circle endlessly, and microaggressions spin into lyric. And all done with a light touch and a joyful sense of humour.

Reproduction

Europa Editions |
Fiction

Reproduction tells a crooked love story in which love takes strange, winding paths and grows in a context shaped by community, family, longstanding friendships, and fleeting interactions that leave their mark on us forever.

Felicia, a nineteen-year-old student from a West Indian family, and Edgar, the lazy-minded and impetuous heir of a wealthy German family, meet by chance when their ailing mothers are assigned the same hospital room. After the death of Felicia’s mother and the recovery of Edgar’s, Felicia drops out of high-school and takes a job as caregiver to Edgar’s mother. The odd-couple relationship between Edgar and Felicia, ripe with miscommunications, misunderstandings, and reprisals for perceived and real offenses, has some unexpected results.

Years later, Felicia’s son Armistice–“Army” for short–is a teenager fixated on a variety of get-rich-quick schemes that are as comic as they are indicative of the immigrant son’s fear of falling through the cracks. When Edgar re-enters Felicia’s life at a typically (for him) inopportune moment, the book’s exhilarating final act is set in the motion and the full import of its title is revealed.

Personals

FreeHand Books |
Poetry

Not Anyone’s Anything

FreeHand Books |
Poetry

You Know Who You Are

Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd |
Poetry

Ian Williams writes challenging poetry. His poems address the crisis of young, black masculinity in cities, paint starkly urban portraits of live and break open stereotypes. Sly humor laces through this collection, and Williams is adept at playing with language to change meanings in unexpected ways. For him it’s easy to turn the word go into gone.

Coming Soon!

Disorientation by Ian Williams, 2021 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction finalist

Introduction to Reproduction… and to Ian Williams

The American Library in Paris: Ian Williams on Racialization and Disorientation

The Disorienting Politics of Being Black | The Agenda

Ian William’s Upcoming Events

Honors, Awards & Recognition

Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Visiting Fellow, American Library in Paris
Winner, Scotiabank Giller Prize
Winner, Raymond Souster Poetry Award
Winner, Danuta Gleed Literary Award
Finalist, Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction
Finalist, ReLit Poetry Prize

Media Kit

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