Jen Powley brings her story to Vernon

The Halifax author tells the story of her life with primary progressive MS in memoir, Just Jen

  • May. 7, 2017 5:30 a.m.

Moira McColl

For The Morning Star

There’s a good reason Just Jen is on CBC’s spring reading list. Jen Powley’s book is no ordinary book, but then, Powley is no ordinary person.

The last time Powley visited us in Vernon, she had taken the five-hour flight from Halifax to Edmonton and then the 11-hour car trip to Vernon to go skiing with Silver Star Adaptive Snow Sports at Silver Star. She’s coming back to Vernon this spring as a part of her national book tour.

“I always wanted to go to Gabriola Island,” she tells me. “I got funding for a national book tour, so (I) decided to take the tour there.”

She will also visit several other communities in B.C., Alberta, Ontario, and Nova Scotia during the month-long tour.

A national book tour is a significant undertaking for anyone, and for Powley, it requires a lot of planning. She brings along her 370-pound fully electric wheelchair, enough supplies to set up a mini clinic area wherever she stays, and technical equipment to enable her to make her presentations.

Just Jen is a remarkable book and a must read for anyone who has experienced a disability themselves, or as a family member, caregiver or friend of someone with a disability.

“Essentially, I wrote the book because I couldn’t find any good books when I was diagnosed. There have been some good ones since, but none are on primary progressive MS, and I thought the community deserved one.”

This is a powerful memoir that tells the story of Powley’s life at the time of her diagnosis and the infinite, irrevocable ways it has changed since. Powley’s writing pulls no punches. She is lively, bold, and unapologetic, answering questions people are often afraid to ask about living with a progressive disease. And yet, the snapshots of Powley’s life are not tinged with anger or despair. It is a powerful, uplifting, and unforgettable work.

Prior to writing her memoir, Powley obtained a degree in social sciences from Kings College University in Edmonton, then moved to Halifax independently to complete a journalism degree. She held positions with a couple of social agencies before taking a master’s degree in urban planning. She then worked for five years with the Ecology Acion Centre in Halifax before enrolling in the Creative Nonfiction MFA program at King’s College in Halifax.

At the age of 15, Powley was diagnosed with primary progressive MS. Now at age 39, due to the extreme aggressiveness of her disease, she has advanced to full quadriplegia. However, the progression of the disease has not stopped her from living a vital and productive life and having a wicked sense of humour.

She currently lives in Halifax and continues to organize her own care. She is a member of the Halifax Community Health Board and is president of the Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia. Her favourite time of the week is date night with her partner Tom.

Powley will present her book Just Jen at the Vernon library May 20 at 10:30 a.m. The public is welcome to attend. Refreshments will be served.

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