Ian Williams wins $10K prize for debut story collection

Toronto writer Ian Williams has won the $10,000 Danuta Gleed Literary Award for his debut short story collection Not Anyone's Anything.
Ian Williams won the $10,000 Danuta Gleed Award for Not Anyone's Anything. (Luke Khomeriki/Writers' Union of Canada)

Toronto writer Ian Williams has won the $10,000 Danuta Gleed Literary Award for his debut short story collection Not Anyone's Anything.

The Writers' Union of Canada named Williams the latest winner on Thursday. He divides his time between Toronto and Massachusetts, where he teaches at Fitchburg State University.

"The writing in Not Anyone's Anything is fresh, funny and intelligent," the jury said in its citation.

"This is a solid first book with gripping, convincing dialogue, a fluid sense of urbanity and structural innovation that doesn't come off as trickery. You see the poet here, in the crisp choice of language and even in the line breaks, as Williams uses typography and unusual layout to suggest a split-screen view of life."

Williams told CBC News he was "thrilled" to be recognized. Though short story collections don't often get same attention as novels, he said he loves them because they are "just the right amount to be digestible."

"I think Canadians do the short story better than anyone else on the planet," he said on Thursday.

Not Anyone's Anything is a collection of short stories set in and around Toronto. Its characters include an aspiring pianist who asks her brother to mutilate her hands, an MBA who builds a science fair project with a nine-year-old to avoid a family crisis and a woman hunting for a breakthrough for a terminal disease.

In the collection, Williams experiments with non-tradtional formatting. For example, one story has two narrative threads and the page is split horizontally: the intruder in the basement tells one story along the bottom, while the drama of the couple upstairs is told at the top.

"I wanted to create a book that really celebrated print," Williams explained, adding that his publisher, Freehand Books, "really took a risk." 

The author is a fan of short fiction and longs for the day when readers download short stories in the same way they download music.

In addition to Not Anyone's Anything, Williams has published the poetry collections Personals and You Know Who You Are. In the fall, he will begin teaching at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont.

The two runners-up for the award — Jessica Westhead (And Also Sharks) and Daniel Griffin (Stopping for Strangers) — will each receive $500.

The annual literary prize was created as a celebration of the life of Danuta Gleed, a writer of short fiction who died in December 1996. Her first collection, One of the Chosen, was published posthumously.