Sheridan professor shortlisted for Griffin poetry prize

Sheridan College professor Dr. Ian Williams has been shortlisted for the prestigious Griffin Poetry prize for his collection Personals.

The Brampton native and poetry professor first heard the news while Skyping with a friend from Morroco. He initially thought the congratulations were fake or an April Fool’s Joke. “That’s such a jerky thing to do,” Williams recounted telling his friend with a laugh. “You don’t kid around something like that.”

There’s a lot of publicity that is associated with a nationally televised event that aims to reach a wide audience. “The [Governor General awards] are great and they have a long history, but the Griffin is new, splashy and big in all senses,” Williams told YourMississaugaBiz.com.

The ceremony will take place in Toronto on June 13 where the winner will be awarded $65,000. There will be also be a reading from all three Canadian finalists and four international finalists.

And even if he doesn’t win the Griffin, other opportunities have already sprung up for Williams, like a second marketing push for Personals. “People are asking for poems and things for their journals and whatnot,” he said.

Williams will also receive $10,000 and have his work emblazoned with stickers announcing his Griffin shortlist status.

Still, Williams expects much of the attention will be focused on the eventual winner, like when he won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for the best debut short story collection in English last year. “Agents were contacting me and people from France were contacting me,” he said.

While it’s a bit early to determine if Williams’ nomination for the Griffin will increase interest in Sheridan’s poetry courses, he said it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

“I just hope people study poetry because I think it makes you a better human being,” Williams said. “It keeps something in your head to go back and chew on, like bubble gum for your mind in the best possible way.”

More importantly, Williams has an extra sense of artistic freedom and ability to be honest when it comes to choosing his next literary projects.

“Art suffers when you feel constrained to being nice,” he said. “When you can be real and true, and tactful too but not hurtful, suddenly the truth becomes a bigger piece of what you do. That’s the real gift of this prize.”

However, Williams certainly isn’t resting on his accomplishments or his position at Sheridan anytime soon. “At the end of the day I have to sit in front of my laptop and write another poem or another story.”

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