Ian Williams wins $100K Scotiabank Giller Prize for debut novel Reproduction

The Vancouver-based writer is the latest winner of the richest literary award in Canada.
Ian Williams celebrates winning the 2019 Giller Prize for his book Reproduction at a gala ceremony in Toronto. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Ian Williams has won the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his debut novel Reproduction.

The $100,000 prize is the richest in Canadian literature.

The Brampton, Ont.-raised, Vancouver-based Williams is also a poet. He was shortlisted for the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize for his collection Personals

Ian Williams talks to Shelagh Rogers about his Giller nominated novel, Reproduction.

Reproduction is about Felicia and her teenage son Army. After they move into a basement apartment, they bond with the house's owner and his two children. But strange gifts from Army's wealthy, absent father begin to arrive at their doorstep, inviting new tensions into the makeshift family's lives. 

Reproduction was also shortlisted for the 2019 Amazon Canada First Novel Award.

"I think at that intersection, between the families we came from and the families that we form, this novel was born. That's a really energized intersection," Williams said on The Next Chapter.

"[The book] crosses backgrounds and privileges and race and disadvantages because we all come from families," Williams told CBC Books. "They don't always work well. Sometimes they break apart. It's a book that goes through that cycle: how they are formed, how they break apart, how they are reformed, what threads those undulations together."

Ian Williams shocked, delighted by Giller win

3 years ago
Duration 0:57
Scotiabank Giller prizewinner Ian Williams says the subject of his debut novel is one all of us can relate to.

The jury described Reproduction as "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," the jury said in a statement.

"You have no idea how special this is for me," said Williams in his acceptance speech.

In his speech, he acknowledged Margaret Atwood, who was in the audience and was celebrating her 80th birthday.

"Margaret Atwood, [hers] was the first book that I bought with my own money, at a bookstore in Brampton. And I bought that book because I had good public school teachers who pushed poetry on us," he said.

Williams also acknowledged his family, his mother, church communities, black communities and the Rabinovitch family. Jack Rabinovitch founded the prize in honour of his late wife Doris Giller in 1994. Rabinovitch died in 2017 at the age of 87.

"There's been a lot of talk about the evil of capitalism, but every once in awhile we find people like [the late] Jack Rabinovitch," Williams said. "People who can work within the system to do things that follow the passion of things they love."

"I feel disembodied right now," Williams told CBC Books after the ceremony. "I didn't think I'd be in this position at the beginning of the night. I thought I'd go and eat my sorrows and then it would pass. But it didn't turn out that way, and I'm puzzled."

"I don't see myself getting over it for a good, long time."

The 2019 jury panel was comprised of Donna Bailey Nurse, Randy Boyagoda, José Teodoro, Aminatta Forna and Aleksandar Hemon.

Williams was presented with the $100,000 award by Elana Rabinovitch, the daughter of Jack Rabinovitch, and Scotiabank's executive vice president and chief marketing officer John Doig.

Williams is already looking toward his next project. "The next book is a poetry collection and the book after that is going to be a novel. I'm going to keep writing books, and this frees me up to do that."

Williams's fellow finalists included David Bezmozgis for Immigrant City, Megan Gail Coles for Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, Michael Crummey for The Innocents, Alix Ohlin for Dual Citizens and Steven Price for Lampedusa.

The 2018 winner was Esi Edugyan for novel Washington Black.

Edugyan is the partner of 2019 finalist Price.

Past Giller Prize winners include Michael Redhill for Bellevue Square, Margaret Atwood for Alias Grace, Mordecai Richler for Barney's Version, Alice Munro for Runaway, André Alexis for Fifteen Dogs and Madeleine Thien for Do Not Say We Have Nothing.


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