Ian Williams On The FOLD and Writing About Brampton

Brampton Focus had the pleasure of speaking with Ian Williams about his most recent work, Reproduction, its unique structure, and why Brampton was such an ideal setting for part of it.

Ian Williams is a writer, and assistant professor of poetry in the Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. He will be at the Festival of Literary Diversity May 2nd, and May 5th.

What made you want to write Reproduction? What was your inspiration?
Something like a biological clock was ticking. (More below.) 

Family is very important in Reproduction. What made you want to write about it.
Well, my books have been heading this way: from the identity issues of You Know Who You Are, to the disillusionment of Not Anyone’s Anything, to the desire for connection of Personals, finally to the families in Reproduction. In my real life, I’m not married, I have no kids. But in some parallel imaginary and hormonal life, I am married with kids and a minivan, according to a conventional schedule. I think even single men give sustained thought to the prospect of family and children. These are not female subjects.

Other interviewers have commented on the tenderness between Army and Felicia in the wake of Edgar’s absence. While reading it, I felt like it was such an important way to paint grief, as possible without a bitterness that either character reflects another’s absence. Other stories use the absence of a character as the fulcrum that keeps the plot in motion. Did you find that the unique plot structure gave you greater freedom to develop characters? Did it facilitate more in-depth character development? If so, how?
Great question. I’ll answer it mostly in the question below. Tenderness was a word that was at the back of my mind with Army. In Army we find a masculinity that’s often present in black teenage boys. It’s a mixture of macho posturing, charm, and downright sweetness. Swagger and sweetness. But you never see those stories in the news or in movies. 

While reading it, I found that the plot structure was queer in that it didn’t privilege heterosexual norms of reproduction to move the plot forward. It’s a more in-depth queer reading of your book, but I couldn’t help but see this plot structure as freeing the characters from some norms as well. Did you intend for the plot structure to free characters from reader expectations in this way
Even if the story is fairly chronological or straight, the structure is crystalline, biological, unconventional. That said, the book is still easily readable. The book behaves in such a way as to grant the characters space to be free. Fairly early in the writing process, I had to ask myself, Whose story is this? To which character does it belong? But the story of our lives is not a single story. I don’t think we are protagonists of our lives all the time. I think for some parents, say, their kids are the protagonists. So I needed a form that wouldn’t reduce the novel to a single story but would constantly create fissures from the influence and pressure of other stories. Isn’t Hendrix his own world, minor character or not?

You mentioned in another interview that you wanted to write about love for a while. Can you tell me more about what that means to you, and how Reproduction was part of that desire?
Yes, I want to write and read love stories for a few more years. Love isn’t solely romantic for me. In Reproduction you see many different kinds of love that vary in intensity over the course of the novel. The novel also considers love’s ancillaries: commitment, obligation, attraction, competition, etc.

What made Brampton an important setting for the novel?
I find it best to write about places that I’m not living in presently. I lived in four or five cities while writing the book, literally from the east coast to the west. The novel, too, went through a few locations but none of them felt right. Brampton was the place that we could afford fictional real estate. The GTA is one of the best places to set a multicultural story. It’s very likely that Felicia and Edgar could meet each other at a hospital. Global interactions are the norm not the exception in our city. The novel depends on the easy circulation of diverse bodies.

What else are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a novel called Disappointment and a poetry collection. Mostly the poetry collection right now. It’s seconds from being done.

What are you most excited for, joining the FOLD this year?
It’s really great to be back in Brampton. I think this is how sports teams must feel when they’re playing in their home stadium. I’m exited to share a book about Brampton with people in Brampton.

Tickets for the Festival of Literary Diversity, taking place in Brampton from May 2-5, can be purchased at the FOLD website.