University of Calgary

Connecting with Ian Williams

New Canadian Writer-in-Residence arrives on campus this week

Aug. 18, 2014

For Ian Williams, the 2014-2015 Canadian Writer-in-Residence for the Calgary Distinguished Writers Program, human connection is everything.

The ways in which people communicate with one another, particularly in today's technology-driven social media age, is an ongoing theme in the work of this up-and-coming literary star, who has just started his 10-month residency at the University of Calgary. It's a thread that runs through his book of short stories, Not Anyone's Anything, as well as his poetry collections, You Know Who You Are and Personals. It was prevalent in the latter, with many of the poems in Personals inspired by personal ads the author found on Craigslist. Indeed, the National Post described the slim volume as being "about the intersection between romance and technology."

These are themes that will continue in Williams' first novel, which he plans to develop during his residency. He will also be devoting half of his time to community engagement activities, such as manuscript consultations with local writers and public readings.

"Communicating and connecting with people has always been my priority and I think fiction and poetry are really powerful ways of achieving that," says the 34-year-old Trinidad born author in an interview from his Brampton, ON home.

In the age of social media, communication has become more complicated than ever, Williams observes.

"I'm fascinated by technology and the ways we use it to connect," Williams explains. "We put so much faith in it as a tool, but isn't there an inherent disappointment with it all? As much as you try to connect, you're missing the hand on your face, the touch. You can type to someone, but you're still just touching a screen. You're not seeing people the way they really are."

Rather, he adds: "You're only seeing someone's self construction, the way they've presented themselves on their Facebook or Linked In profiles. It robs us of genuine observation."

But despite his criticisms of technology, Williams also believes that writers should embrace the modern era.

"I don't see a lot of contemporary poetry doing an adequate job capturing that fluidity of our modern technological society," he says. "I think we're still stuck in a language from maybe 25 or 30 years ago, before this massive onslaught of technology. Technology has changed the way we use language, how we think, metaphors we use, our attention spans. It's changed all of that, and I think this is the moment for poetry to respond."

He adds: "You know those books where no one has cell phones or Linked In profiles? Those novels reflect a parallel universe. We're not a part of that world anymore."

In his short career Williams has received considerable acclaim. Named by the CBC as one of the ten Canadian writers to watch, his work has been short listed for the 2013 Griffin Prize, the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award and the ReLit Award.

Williams will be doing his kickoff reading as the Canadian Writer-in-Residence at the CDWP's annual Hello/Goodbye event, on Thursday, Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m at the Arrata Opera Centre. He will be joined by the departing Writer-in-Residence Sara Tilley.

Williams sets up shop in his University of Calgary office this week, which contains a modern phone, albeit a landline. Schedule a manuscript consultation with him here: https://ucalgary.ca/cdwp/writer-residence/request-manuscript-consultatio....