Disorientation by Ian Williams

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50,000 words
Manuscript available January 2021


US: Europa Editions, November 2021
Canada: Random House, September 2021
Italy: Keller Editore


Ian Williams (Photo: Justin Morris)
(Photo: Justin Morris)

Ian Williams is the author of the novel Reproduction, winner of the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize; Personals, which was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award; Not Anyone’s Anything, winner of the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the best first collection of short fiction in Canada, and You Know Who You Are, a finalist for the ReLit Prize for poetry. In 2020 he published his latest poetry collection, Word Problems, winner of the Raymond Souster Award. In fall 2021 he will release Disorientation: Being Black in the World.

Williams is Associate Professor of English at the University of Toronto. He completed his doctorate in English there under George Elliott Clarke. He spent four years teaching poetry in the Creative Writing Department at the University of British Columbia. In 2014-2015 he was the 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. He is currently on the board of the Griffin Poetry Prize. Born in Trinidad, Williams grew up in Brampton, Ontario, and has worked in Massachusetts and Ontario.

Being Black in the World

by Ian Williams



“Disorientation is a formally inventive and searing meditation on race and Blackness. Both topical and literary, Williams’ essay collection juxtaposes personal stories about racial profiling and microaggressions alongside discussions about the murders of George Floyd and Eric Garner and readings of Black writers like Audre Lorde and James Baldwin. His writing moves, by turn, from tenderness to despair to anger, yet remains clear-eyed and intellectually rigorous throughout. In an age of hot takes and condemnation, Williams’ essays reflect, explore, and illuminate.”
 — JURY, Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction

“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

“In Disorientation, Ian Williams captures the impact of racial encounters on racialized people, especially when one's minding their own business. Sometimes, the consequences are only irritating, but sometimes they are deadly. Driven by the police killings and street protests of 2020, Williams realized he could offer a Canadian perspective on race. He explores things such as, the unmistakable moment when a child realizes they're Black, the ten characteristics of institutional whiteness, how friendship helps protect against being a target of racism and blame culture.”
 — CBC BOOKS, top non-fiction pick for fall 2021


Disorientation: a sudden, life-changing realization of one’s own race and its implications.

“Disorientation” refers to the effect of racial encounters on racialized people, the whiplash of race that occurs while minding one’s business (while, say, driving, or playing music), sometimes with irritating consequences, sometimes with deadly ones.

Growing up, Ian Williams had the opportunity to not only experience Blackness in the eyes of Americans, but to also get fragments of what being Black is like in the world through living in Trinidad and Canada as well. Now the time has come to try to make sense of this picture society has painted and to explain to people what it means to be a person of colour.

Disorientation reveals the diversity of Black lives not covered in existing books, such as the significance of Black faces and bodies in fomenting division and classification; how the politicization of religion affects race relations; the ten characteristics of institutional whiteness; what it means to be the only Black person in a room, or a Black person who is not American; and the disorienting moment in childhood when one realizes one is Black.

In his characteristic writing style, Williams shares the story of how his niece and her family had to start thinking about the N word when it was abruptly thrown at her. First solution: tell the authorities, says mom. Second solution: deal with it yourself, says dad. And in the end, as always and no matter which option they choose, nothing happens.

“It disrupts your reality. It is enacted on you—it interrupts. It stalls the forward momentum of your life. You can’t prepare for disorientation. You can try walking around in an armoured suit.”

With Disorientation: Being Black in the World, Ian Williams pens a book that is meant to act more as a conversational piece than a confrontational one. It is a book that does not derive its energy from anger at whiteness, nor does it aim to offer inspirational platitudes on Blackness. Rather, Disorientation sheds new light on the issues that dominate social discourse today in a book deliberately aimed at the world of tomorrow.

Ian Williams on the front of the Canadian supplement
of Publishers Weekly, October 2020

Author Ian Williams is the newest inductee into the Brampton Arts Walk of Fame—CONGRATULATIONS!

Click to watch the virtual event



“Vastly enjoyable…. Top-notch comic dialogue makes this light-footed navigation of race and gender politics fizz on the page, as the steady dopamine hit of Williams's deliciously juicy phrasemaking works in tandem with typographical high-jinks that look gimmicky but earn their keep.” — DAILY MAIL UK

“Captivating…. The consequences of procreation between unsuited partners—a lifetime of misery and the likelihood of subsequent generations repeating the same mistakes—are explored with subtlety and wit over the novel’s four decades….There’s a fluidity and zest to Williams’s insightful writing, underpinned by numerous experiments with form and style: a flow-chart illustrating a character’s thought process; absent-minded asides embedded in a smaller font within sentences; and short paragraphs, sometimes just a couple of lines, that read as distilled prose poems…. Williams has a penchant for juggling multiple perspectives…. A finely balanced novel.” — THE GUARDIAN

“Williams’s imaginative, intricate tapestries are dazzling […] In his rich probes of language and intimacy, legacy and inheritance, he slyly shows that reproduction is consequential, but so is everything else.” — THE NEW YORK TIMES

“This gorgeous novel vibrates with life. Williams’ compassion for his characters transforms them from ordinary beings into uncommon souls. We know these people: their flaws, their foibles and their fuck-ups. We recognise them because we share the same vagaries of living, wherever we are born. Stylistically inventive and narratively compelling, Reproduction is a stunning achievement.”  — AMINATTA FORNA, author of The Memory of Love

“Innovative, smart, funny, joyous, poetic, generous and forgiving of human foibles. Reproduction is Williams’s first book of fiction, but it is clear he will be around for a long while.” — ALEKSANDAR HEMON, author of The Lazarus Project

“Ian Williams’s Reproduction is many things at once. It’s an engrossing story of disparate people brought together and also a masterful unfolding of unexpected connections and collisions between and across lives otherwise separated by race, class, gender and geography. It’s a pointed and often playful plotting out of individual and shared stories in the close spaces of hospital rooms, garages, mansions and apartments, and a symphonic performance of resonant and dissonant voices, those of persons wanting to impress persuade, deny, or beguile others, and always trying again.” — JURY CITATION, Scotiabank Giller Prize

“…This work successfully examines major themes of empathy, responsibility, secrecy, race, multiculturalism, misogyny, and honesty.” — LIBRARY JOURNAL, starred review

“Williams’s unsparing view on the past’s repetition is heartrending. This ambitious experiment yields worthwhile results.” — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“An intergenerational novel…that examines how love can supersede blood ties. [Reproduction’s] complicated path mirrors how many families are built on experiences that don’t make the photo albums, and illuminates how dark and painful moments can share equal space with joy and laughter…. With Reproduction Williams joins authors like David Chariandy and Catherine Hernandez—whose recent novels are set in Scarborough—showcasing the bounty of stories of those who live beyond the CN Tower’s shadow.” — TORONTO STAR

“Driven as much by its relationships as its characters, and is intensified and enriched by an inventive style that borrows from Williams’s giant poet’s brain.”

“Ian Williams thrives on stylistic daring in debut novel Reproduction…[it] thrums with an array of devices, from a chorus of perspectives to discussions written as asides, which reflects [Williams’s] taste for surprise and delight in literary endeavours&hellip. Divisions due to race and class, and kinship that transcends, embroider his work.” — THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT

“Williams’ Reproduction contains examples of the compromises and mutually agreed upon lies that bind families together. The ability of humans to wilfully ignore past misdeeds, to keep secrets for decades and forge on despite human frailty and failings are all clearly depicted in Williams’ story.” — WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“In this novel about fathers who vanish and the families that spring up in their place, the Vancouver-based poet deftly weaves together the voices of a 14-year-old Black boy, a 16-year-old white girl and a motley crew of middle-aged parents who are all struggling to do right by their children—with mixed results.”
 — CHATELAINE Magazine

“Reproduction’s genius is its weaponized empathy, the precision-etched intensity of Williams’ gritty, witty, wholly unsentimental exploration of the collision of human hearts and the messy aftermath. Love, and its lack, form a spectrum that the characters bounce between, searching for connections, redemption and meaning.”— EDEN ROBINSON, author of Son of a Trickster and Trickster Drift

“The startling brilliance of Ian Williams stems from his restlessness with form. His ceaseless creativity in sussing out the right patterning of story, the right vernacular nuance, the right diagram and deftly dropped reference—all in service of vividly illuminating the intermingled comedy and trauma of family.”
— DAVID CHARIANDY, author of Brother and I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You


Interviewed in The Globe & Mail
Margaret Atwood & Ian Williams




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