Quill and Quire Essay

Quill and Quire commissioned me to write this personal essay about Alice Munro’s legacy for their Books of the Year issue. I’ve excerpted a passage below:

‘Her wide readership gives hope to writers more preoccupied with the grace notes and nuances of language than plot mechanics or the issue-driven grandeur that makes so many contemporary novels a hard slog. A close reading of her work is the best creative-writing lesson I ever had. Her prose has the depth and perfect pitch of poetry. She has a poet’s ear for the way words sound and work together. The ease with which she handles complex narratives is dazzling. I know of at least a dozen writers, none of whose work bears any superficial resemblance to hers or even to each other’s, but who nonetheless claim her as a significant influence. What inspires me most about Munro the writer is her persistence in trying to, in her own words, “account for the inexpressible.” Reading her, I get the sense that as an artist she is moving always into uncharted waters, fraught with potential danger and unsettling news about humanity.”

Indie Bookseller Book of the Year

David Worsley from Wordsworth Books in Waterloo chose Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush as a favourite title for 2016:

‘Whether set in the solitary existence within a tough high school, a strip club, or chronicling teens cast into the drudgery of the working world, Powell has an ear for dialogue and a command of place across the board. Reviews have quite rightly likened Powell to Alice Munro and it’s wonderful to see a first collection (after an award-winning volume of poetry) promise so much.”

Quill and Quire Book of the Year

The editors at Quill and Quire have chosen Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush as one of their books of the year for 2016:

Kerry Lee Powell’s debut story collection is one of the year’s indisputable powerhouses. Powell’s stories, which focus on vulnerable characters battling anomie, indifference, and misunderstanding, are distinguished by sinewy, concentrated writing packed with meaning and implication. Others agree: Powell’s book was the only one to be nominated for all three of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language fiction.

National Post Book of the Year

Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush has been named a National Post Book of the Year for 2016. Here’s what the editors wrote:

Powell’s story collection received nods from the Giller Prize, Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Awards in 2016, all for the author’s first prose publication after two well-received collections of poetry. As reviewer Naomi Skwarna says of the stories in William de Kooning’s Paintbrush, “Each one feels like the favourite until the next.”

Review of Inheritance

It was a joy, in the midst of all my fiction-related activities, to find these generous words written by poet and University of Toronto professor Richard Greene, about my poetry:

“Kerry-Lee Powell’s Inheritance (Biblioasis) is a spectacular debut. Originally from Montreal and now in New Brunswick, Powell has lived in Australia, Antigua, and the United Kingdom. She studied at the University of Cardiff and experienced the extraordinarily vibrant poetry scene in Wales, where she received advice on her writing from Gwyneth Lewis and other highly accomplished poets. Powell is also an admired writer of fiction, publishing with Harper Collins. Inheritance is mainly inspired by her father’s experience of a shipwreck during World War II, his long years of post-traumatic stress disorder, and his eventual suicide. Powell typically writes in strict forms, which, in her handling, achieve an almost elemental solidity. “The Lifeboat” is a poem with affinities going back at least as far as William Cowper:

All night in his lifeboat my father sang

to keep the voices of the other men

who cried in the wreckage from reaching him,

he sang what he knew of the requiem,

of the hit parade and the bits of hymns,

he sang until he would never sing again

,scalding his raw throat with sea water

until his ribs heaved, until the salt

wept from his eyes on dry land,

flecked at his lips in his squalling rages,

streaked the sheets in his night sweats

as night after night the reassembled ship

scattered its parts on the shore of his bed,

and the lifeboat eased him out again

to drown each night among singing men.

I cannot imagine how such a subject could be better handled, and many more examples could be quoted. Good debut collections generally show skill but tend nowadays to rely on a torrent of marginally clever references to social media and pop culture, usually with the obligato adjective fractal, as if the poets were looking for a strangeness to hold place in poetry until some significant experience comes along. Powell seizes on a grief of terrible magnitude and renders it with technical mastery.”

from the summer issue of the University of Toronto Quarterly(vol. 85, issue 3)