The day after he won the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize, we met with Ian Williams, author of Reproduction, for a special Ask Me Anything, with questions submitted from Scotiabank’s Instagram followers.
Here were your questions and his responses.
Question: What do you hope this award will allow you to do/accomplish?
Ian Williams: I think the best thing that this award can do is buy some time for writers. Buy some time so I don’t have to worry about whether the next book is commercially successful or not, really to [be able to] play and swing away freely.
Question: Did you dedicate your book to anyone?
Ian Williams: The front page, in the dedication page, it says “For before” and you see a family tree moving upwards. It’s for all of our ancestors and our parents and grandparents and all of that “before.” Fill in your own family tree going up and that is who the book is for.
Question: What’s next?
Ian Williams: The next project is a poetry collection that comes out next year. It’s all about word problems. After that, another novel that I am working on these days, called Disappointment.
Question: What’s the biggest challenge you faced writing your book?
Ian Williams: [There were] a couple of big challenges when I was writing the book – first I was at a high demand job, so I needed to find time and I simply couldn’t find time. The second was technical. In part four of the book, I had to figure out how to sort of give the book cancer and how to get it to reproduce in that way. Eventually [it was] solved. It took a long time, it took throwing out thousands and thousands of words but [it was] worth it.
Question: What does your win mean for person of colour Canlit writers, present and to come?
Ian Williams: So the last few years, we’ve seen Esi [Edugyan] and Andre Alexis win and now me. I think it feels kind of like we are getting used to different people being in the room together. Like you thought the party was for one thing, but in fact, the party has been for a whole bunch of people and we are seeing those people starting to dance now. I think that is what’s happening.
Question: What top 3 things will you do with the money?
Ian Williams: So what to do with the money, right? I have a friend who actually calls me, playfully, Lil Ian with a Yacht, like a little hip-hop name, but no, I am not doing that. I would probably donate some, do something good with a portion of the rest, but it’s going to sit in a really dull investment account until I figure it out. I don’t have to spend it right? I don’t have to buy gold chains and Jordans.
Question: What’s your favourite Margaret Atwood book?
Ian Williams: My favourite Atwood book is Power Politics from the early 70s. It’s a poetry collection, a love collection, where she says things like, “Please die so I can write about it.” So, really cutting things. So I’ve given away a lot of copies of these books to friends and people in and out of relationships. It’s the greatest breakup song, that book.
Question: If your book was made into a movie – who would you want to star in it?
Ian Williams: So I don’t know all the actors who would play the parts, but I think for Army, who appears in part two [of the book], young Will Smith, circa Fresh Prince of Bel-Air time, would be great. Boyish, charismatic, light-hearted and full of love and joy – Will Smith.
Question: Who is your biggest inspiration?
Ian Williams: I think I go to writers for different things. So I will go to Miriam Toews to see how she how she works a paragraph; she can squeeze a whole life into a paragraph. Zadie Smith, for that sort of humourist, class thing and David Foster Wallace for a big sentence. So different writers for different things. Poets are a whole other ballpark.
Question: Any advice for aspiring authors?
Ian Williams: So I’m not much good at advice, I can’t advise people on how to live but read a lot. Develop interests outside of writing too, it can become pretty insular and you can become pretty obsessive about it but the world is big, life is big, there is more to life than writing.