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. His book Reproduction 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.

Ian's Featured Titles


Europa Compass |

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 |

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.


Europa Editions |

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.


FreeHand Books |

Not Anyone’s Anything

FreeHand Books |

Ian Williams’s Not Anyone’s Anything is a trio of trios: three sets of three stories, with three of those stories further divided into thirds. Mathematical, musical, and meticulously crafted, these stories play profoundly with form, featuring flash cards and musical notations embedded in texts, literal basements, and dual narratives, semi-detached. Roaming through Toronto and its surrounding suburbia, Williams’s characters wittily and wryly draw attention to the angst and anxieties associated with being somewhere between adolescence and more-than-that. They are disastrously ambitious, cutting the flaps of skin between their fingers to play Chopin; they are restless and bored, breaking into units of new subdivisions hoping for a score; they continually test the ones they love, and, though every time feels like the last time, they might be up for one more game.

You Know Who You Are

Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd |

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.


Determining Your Writing Profile: 9 Questions to Unlock Your Creativity

So often writers try to squeeze ourselves into someone else’s methods or advice. The premise of this talk is that a sustainable writing practice begins with a knowledge of your strengths and natural inclinations. Through guided questions, we will explore how your temperament and personality intersect so that you can hone your writing process instead of fighting yourself.


Disorientation: Being Black 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. Williams explores such things 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.


Nothing More Than Feelings: A Poetry Workshop

People instantly associate poetry with feelings, and poets oblige by continuing to dump our feelings there. Through this talk Ian aims to attune us afresh to how we represent our feelings, and he considers the following questions: how can we transmit our highly personalized feelings to readers in a way they can appreciate? What’s the difference between a thought and a feeling? No poetry experience is expected.


What Can a Poem Be and Do?

This talk is for people who think they don’t like poetry. We ultimately discover why and how poems give us pleasure.


Demystifying Inspiration: Generating Material for Writers

It’s time to stop waiting for inspiration! This talk offers four specific and reliable ways to generate poems. How can we take control of our writing process so that we are guaranteed a good productive writing session every day? Together we’ll try all four strategies, demystify the secrets of very productive writers, and supercharge our poetic output once more.


How and Why Should I Live a Creative Life?

This talk makes two assertions:

  1. 1. All writers struggle against internal factors (doubt, fear, anxiety) and external ones (how will I make money? where do I fit among society’s priorities?) to find value in their creative pursuit.
  2. 2.  A creative life is possible, even necessary, for everyone, not simply for artists.

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 Williams’s Upcoming Events

Honors, Awards & Recognition

Professor, University of Toronto
Finalist, Griffin Poetry Prize
Finalist, Amazon Canada First Novel Prize
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

By clicking the link below you will be directed to a Google Docs Folder
where you can download author photos and cover images.

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