Intellectual engagement a key point for CWIP author Kerry Lee Powell

On Nov. 28, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course presented poet and writer Kerry Lee Powell reading from her debut collection of short stories Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush. York U teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

Author and poet Kerry Lee Powell visited York University to talk about her debut collection of short stories, Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush, as part of the Canadian Writers in Person series. Powell delivered her reading on Nov. 28.

Kerry Lee Powell
Kerry Lee Powell

Powell’s debut poetry collection, Inheritance, was nominated for the 2015 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. In 2013, she won both the Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction and the Boston Review’s Aura Estrada Short Story Contest. Her debut fiction collection, Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush, was nominated for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, and the 2016 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize; it won the Alistair McLeod Prize for Short Fiction.

Her short stories are dark and funny, and often centered on people who are dealing with trauma. Powell said, “The position of the alienated outsider is really at this point a defining and dominant force in popular culture.” From strippers, to barflies, children and immigrants, most of her characters are outsiders living on the margins of society.

On the power of literature to engage us not only emotionally but also intellectually, the writer noted, “I want to acknowledge the pleasure of fantasy that realism offers, but I want to locate my stories within a fractured environment… It is important to not look away from what is disturbing.” Her stories invite us not only to relate to the ‘other,’ but also to think about those aspects of reality that make us uneasy.

Cover of Kerry Lee Powell's bookPowell spoke about her stories being not only mirrors to the world, but also a way of engaging with the world creatively, and of revealing its complexity. “Literature creates worlds, but it also shows the world as created by our own values. We can change our world,” if we examine our values and their role in shaping our perceptions.

The writer explained that she found in the painting style of abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning a kind of violence or desire to tear at the seams of reality, which inspires her own writing style. In her stories, Powell sees violence as “a way of punching a hole through reality,” challenging us to see and think about the world differently.

The Canadian Writers in Person reading series will resume on January 16, 2018, with a visit from Paul Yee, who will be talking about his novel A Superior Man.

Readings are free and open to any member of the public. For more information, contact Professor Leslie Sanders at or Professor Gail Vanstone at All readings are held Tuesdays from 7 to 9pm in 206 Accolade West Building, Keele campus.