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Biography & Autobiography African American & Black


Being Black in the World

by (author) Ian Williams

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Sep 2021
African American & Black, Civil Rights, Discrimination & Race Relations
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2021
    List Price

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Bestselling, Scotiabank Giller Award-winning writer Ian Williams brings fresh eyes and new insights to today's urgent conversation on race and racism in startling, illuminating essays that grow out of his own experience as a Black man moving through the world.

With that one eloquent word, disorientation, Ian Williams captures the impact of racial encounters on racialized people—the whiplash of race that occurs while minding one's own business. Sometimes the consequences are only irritating, but sometimes they are deadly. Spurred by the police killings and street protests of 2020, Williams realized he could offer a perspective distinct from the almost exclusively America-centric books on race topping the bestseller lists, because of one salient fact: he has lived in Trinidad (where he was never the only Black person in the room), in Canada (where he often was), and in the United States (where as a Black man from the Caribbean, he was a different kind of "only").

Inspired by the essays of James Baldwin, in which the personal becomes the gateway to larger ideas, Williams explores such things as the unmistakable moment when a child realizes they are Black; the ten characteristics of institutional whiteness; how friendship forms a bulwark against being a target of racism; the meaning and uses of a Black person's smile; and blame culture—or how do we make meaningful change when no one feels responsible for the systemic structures of the past. With these essays, Williams wants to reach a multi-racial audience of people who believe that civil conversation on even the most charged subjects is possible. Examining the past and the present in order to speak to the future, he offers new thinking, honest feeling, and his astonishing, piercing gift of language.

About the author

Ian Williams is the author of the Giller Prize–winning novel Reproduction. His last poetry collection Personals was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award. His short story collection, Not Anyone’s Anything, won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the best first collection of short fiction in Canada. His first book, You Know Who You Are, was a finalist for the ReLit Poetry Prize.
Williams holds a Ph.D. in English at the University of Toronto and is currently an assistant professor of poetry in the Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. He was the 2014-2015 Canadian Writer-in-Residence for the University of Calgary’s Distinguished Writers Program.

Ian Williams' profile page


  • Short-listed, Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize

Editorial Reviews


Disorientation is a formally inventive and searing meditation on race and Blackness. Both topical and literary, Williams’ essay collection juxtaposes personal stories about racial profiling and microaggressions alongside discussions about the murders of George Floyd and Eric Garner and readings of Black writers like Audre Lorde and James Baldwin. His writing moves, by turn, from tenderness to despair to anger, yet remains clear-eyed and intellectually rigorous throughout. In an age of hot takes and condemnation, Williams’ essays reflect, explore, and illuminate.” —Jury, Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction

“A lyrical, closely observed contribution to the literature of race and social justice.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Whether it’s novels or poetry or, now, his new book of essays, [Ian Williams] reaches out by sharing his art and his world, opening up conversations.” —Toronto Star

“[Ian Williams’] reflections—spanning life in Trinidad, Canada and the United States—deserve to be read widely.” —Chatelaine

“[A] book that invites its reader into Williams’ thoughts on race, Blackness and place through accessible essays and personal accounts. . . . It’s an invitation well worth taking.” —The Ubyssey
“The poet, professor, and Giller-winning novelist turns his substantial creative skill to the topic of anti-Black racism. . . . Williams extrapolates universal insight into the experience of living under white supremacy.” —Quill & Quire

Disorientation is so honest, vulnerable, courageous and funny that it left me dying to sit down over a long coffee with Ian Williams. Make that two lattes, and I’m buying!”—Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes
“In this pithy, kaleidoscopic book, Williams interrogates moments when Black people have their personal identities challenged by the powerful misperceptions of others. Williams turns these scenes of intimate and public disorientation into subtle, radical essays on self-realization." —Walton Muyumba, The Boston Globe

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