Ian Williams – Award winning poet now online literary star

By Stephen Weir

Ian Williams

Earlier this month, Trinidadian Canadian writer Ian Williams passed over from being a rising talent to literary star.

 In September the award winning poet and author was made a spokesman for Canada’s richest fiction prize, was featured in an exclusive magazine for the country’s well-heeled authors and still found time to oversee the publishing of his new book of poems.

Williams was born in Trinidad in 1979 and moved to Brampton with his family when he was nine.   He earned his PHD at the University of Toronto and is currently a professor of poetry at the University of British Columba.

Ian Williams new book

Last year his first novel, Reproduction, won the $100,000 Giller Prize and was shortlisted for two other significant Canadian book prizes. Williams’s books of poetry have been shortlisted and won many Canadian Literary Prizes. 

Word Problems, his latest book is a” mash-up “of poetry and prose and is currently being printed in downtown Toronto at the venerable Coach House Press which specializes in limited edition prestigious hand-printed poetry books.

The book will not be available in stores and for online shoppers until October 6 but William’s publisher is already taking pre-orders.

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 new book 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.

“ While a white man waits for me to answer he is searching his inner Wikipedia for a fact or a current event about the island or continent I am from. Carnival, genocide, pirates, cruise lines, a woman he used to work with, blood diamonds on the soles of her shoes, a-wa a-wa.  The list could be longer. He knows a lot about where I am from whether I am from there or not,” writes Williams in World Problems.

Ian Williams

Reading the book is not only a bit of puzzler.It is also a dexterity test for readers.  Forget page turner. This is a book turner. The poems are often printed as circles made of words There are lines printed in the margins in tiny print, and there are printed lines that are stacked vertically and horizontally like a downtown condo,

It asks many questions and thankfully provides a response.” The answers appear on the back cover (seriously). Poems appear in between,” he explains.

The Scotiabank Giller invited Williams to announce the 2020 longlist for the Prize.  He did just that on September 8,  going live on a host of social media sites and later, on video clips on most TV newscasts.

Williams read out the names of a dozen authors in the running for the $100,000 October Prize.  Included in the list was a fellow Caribbean Canadian author!-Guyanese Canadian poet and author Kaie Kellough was nominated for his short story collection, Dominoes At The Crossroads.

And, if Williams needs anymore September affirmation of his vaunted status, the latest issue of NUVO magazine dropped free on the doorsteps of only homes in the country’s wealthiest postal codes with a six page feature, including two full page portraits of Williams!

NUVO magazine call itself the nation’s authority “on all things exceptional—a combination of style and purpose, we feature and profile people, places, and possessions.”

Didn’t get a copy?  No worries, it is available free at Nuvo’s website. As well Williams will be online with another famous Canadian writer, Margaret Atwoo,d on November 24th.  According to Williams “we’ll inevitably talk fiction, nonfiction and so much more.”