Acclaimed poet, born in Trinidad and Tobago, becomes third Black Canadian to win the prestigious literary award
Ian Williams, born in Trinidad and Tobago, grew up in Toronto, and walked away with the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s top literary award at a gala ceremony held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto on Monday November 18.
The 40-year-old Williams snagged the $100,000 award for his debut novel, Reproduction, a fiction built on the complexities of a love story two people from different worlds, an island girl and a wealthy German heir who met at a hospital room where both their mothers lay dying.
The book is the first for the award-winning poet, and was published by Random House in January 2019.
In winning the prestigious award, Williams, a professor in the Creative Writing department at the University of Alberta, emerged at the top of a group of finalists that included other celebrated writers, four of whom were former Giller Prize nominees: David Bezmozgis, Michael Crummey, Alix Ohlin and Steven Price, as well as Megan Gail Coles.
Canada’s iconic writer, Margaret Atwood, was not short-listed among the finalists with her recently published novel, The Testaments, the sequel to 1985’s masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale. Neither did 2015’s winner Andre Alexis with his book, Days by Moonlight.
This year’s winner, who moved to the Toronto area with his parents as an elementary school student, becomes the second Trinidad and Tobago-born author and third Black Canadian to win the prize in the last five years.
Alexis, who also moved to Canada as a child from the twin island republic, won the prize four years for his book Fifteen Dogs, while Esi Edugyan, who was born in Alberta to Ghanaian parents, is last year’s winner with her novel Washington Black. She was also nominated in 2011 for her novels Half-Blood Blues.
Barbados-born bard Austin Clarke, who died in 2016, took the prize in 2002 for his masterpiece The Polished Hoe.
Although Reproductions is his first novel, Williams, who earned his Ph.D. in English at the University of Toronto where he also earned his B.Sc. (Honors) and his Masters of Arts, packs a lot of literary heft. He was also a scholar at the National Humanities Center Summer Institute for Literary Study, and among the laundry list of residences and fellowships that make up his resume. He was the 2014-2015 Canadian Writer-in-Residence for the University of Calgary’s Distinguished Writers Program.
His first book of poetry, You Know Who You Are, was shortlisted for the ReLit Awards. That was followed by Personals, another book of poems published in 2012, shortlisted for the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award. His collection of short stories Not Anyone’s Anything, won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award in 2012.
Reproduction was also shortlisted for the 2019 Amazon.ca First Novel Award and the 2019 Toronto Book Awards.