Books

Ian Williams among winners of 2021 League of Canadian Poets awards

The other award winners were Bertrand Bickersteth, Noor Naga and Jillian Christmas. The $2,000 prizes celebrate the best in Canadian poetry.

Prizes also went to Canadian poets Bertrand Bickersteth, Noor Naga and Jillian Christmas

Word Problems is a book by Ian Williams. (Coach House Books, Justin Morris)

Ian Williams is one of four writers who won the League of Canadian Poets' 2021 poetry awards.

The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, Pat Lowther Memorial Award, Raymond Souster Award and Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award, each worth $2,000, celebrate the best in Canadian poetry.

The prizes were created by the League of Canadian Poets, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting poets and poetry in Canada.

Williams' poetry collection Word Problems was awarded the Raymond Souster Award, which honours Raymond Souster, an early founder of the League of Canadian Poets. The prize is presented for a book of poetry by a League member.

Word Problems uses math and grammar to tackle the toughest issues of our time — racial inequality, our detrimental depression and the complicated relationships we have with others. Williams revisits the simple questions from grade school for inspiration and find no easy answers. 

Williams is a poet, novelist and professor from Brampton, Ont., who is currently teaching at the University of British Columbia.

His debut novel Reproduction won the 2019 Giller Prize. He is also the author of the poetry collection Personals, which was a finalist for the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize.

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Bertrand Bickersteth won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for his debut poetry collection The Response of Weeds. The award is given in the memory of arts administrator Gerald Lampert and recognizes a Canadian writer's first book of poetry.

The book explores what it means to be Black and Albertan through historical, biographical and geographical viewpoints. It provides a window on the much overlooked contributions of Black Albertans to the province's character and uses personal perspectives to discuss the question of Black identity in the prairies. 

Bickersteth was born in Sierra Leone, raised in Alberta, and has lived in the U.K., and the U.S. He was longlisted for the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize for Wakanda, Oklahoma. The Response of Weeds was on CBC's best Canadian poetry of 2020 list. He lives in Calgary and teaches at Olds College.

Washes, Prays, by Alexandrian writer Noor Naga, was awarded the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, which is awarded to a book of poetry written by a Canadian woman. 

The novel-in-verse tells the story of Coocoo, a young immigrant woman in Toronto, whose faith is hanging by a thread after years of asking God to end her loneliness and being ignored. She meets her mirror-image, Muhammad, a professor and father of two. The problem? He's also married. This book details the growing contradictions of Coocoo's life, and a love that might not survive. 

Naga was born in Philadelphia, raised in Dubai, studied in Toronto and now lives in Cairo. Her poem The Mistress and the Ping won the 2017 Bronwen Wallace Award. Washes, Prays was on CBC Books' 29 works of Canadian poetry to watch for in spring 2020. Her debut novel, American Girl and Boy from Shobrakheit, is forthcoming April 2022.

Educator, organizer and advocate Jillian Christmas won the Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award. The award honours an established poet with a history of achievement and performance in spoken word. 

Christmas is the former Artistic Director of Vancouver's Verses Festival of Words. Using an anti-oppressive lens, she has performed and facilitated workshops across North America. The Gospel of Breaking is her debut poetry collection.

Last year's winners were Chantal Gibson, Heather Birrell, Roxanna Bennett and Charlie C Petch.

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