Kate Cayley


Bachelor of Arts (Hons.), Contemporary Studies and Theatre, 2001

When I wrote my first full play, the sense of excitement and possibility—that you could put people in a room and get them to speak—was astonishing.

Kate Cayley is amazed it took her so long to realize she was a writer. After graduating from King’s, she and some fellow alumni started a theatre company called Stranger Theatre, where she spent a decade co-creating, directing and writing plays that toured the world.

“That’s ultimately how I became a writer,” says the mother of three who lives with her partner Lea (a fellow King’s grad) in Toronto. “It was the thing that made sense out of my experience of the world.”

In 2009, Kate joined Tarragon Theatre, where she’s had two plays produced. She’s also written a collection of poetry, an award-winning young adult novel and a short story collection called How You Were Born.

“When I wrote my first full play, the sense of excitement and possibility—that you could put people in a room and get them to speak—was astonishing,” she says. “But I’m most interested in fiction because the possibilities are actually limitless.”

Kate’s interest in her characters’ relationships to one another and the world is evident in How You Were Born, described as “a collection of stories that investigate the bizarre, the tragi-comic and the unbelievable elements that run through human lives.”

The collection won the 2015 Trillium Book Award (a $20,000 prize) beating out works from established writers like Margaret Atwood. The book was also a finalist for the Governor General's Award for Fiction.

“The whole thing was surreal and amazing,” Kate says of winning the award and attending the ceremony where she met writers like Dionne Brand and Thomas King. “It makes you feel legitimate.”

Kate is currently working on a novel, which she says is daunting, but exciting.

“I feel like I’ve been knocked back to square one. In some ways (the award) has been completely altering, but in other ways it’s still just you at your desk muddling through the next book.”

King’s provides “an enormous education” for writers through the Foundation Year Program (FYP), Kate believes. Students are taught how to think and structure an argument—lessons Kate says have stuck with her.

“King’s made me think critically and lyrically about writing, and reading,” she adds. “I encountered books I wouldn’t have read otherwise. The idea that you are learning to write and read critically but also out of love was fundamental.”

Her involvement in the King’s Theatre Society also prepared Kate for producing shows with little time and budget. She calls it a crash course.

“I’ve been effectively a working artist since leaving school. I’ve been really lucky. I also met very close friends and artistic collaborators at King’s.”

Kate believes a liberal arts education challenges students to think without ideology, as she was encouraged to do by a professor.

“I am still pinching myself about how lucky I was to have gone to King’s,” she says. “Spending four years thinking about the history of western thought, including the critique of those canonical works, was an enormous opportunity. If you’re going to be intellectually engaged with the world you need to hold those things in balance.”

Posted: Apr. 2016

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