Kate Cayley has published works of fiction, collections of poetry and produced several plays; but she didn’t always know 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.”
Having started her own theatre group with friends even before arriving at King’s, Kate always had a knack for theatre. During her undergrad years, she directed several KTS productions. She credits these early productions for the confidence and skills it took to start out as a working artist.
“King’s is a great place to really cut your teeth on the actual reality of making theatre,” she laughs. “You’ll never have a very large budget, everyone is scrambling to get things done last minute and you’ll be up all night – you have a lot of freedom to make mistakes.”
After graduating, Kate did not hesitate to apply the skills she had learned at King’s. “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.”
From 2009 to 2017, Kate was the playwright-in-residence for the Toronto-based Tarragon Theatre, where she has had two plays produced. Since 2016, Kate has also been working in collaboration with Zuppa Theatre in Halifax, a group which offers immersive and interactive theatre experiences.
“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 comes through in her writing as well. How You Were Born, her 2014 collection of short stories, is described as an investigation of “the bizarre, the tragi-comic and the unbelievable elements that run through human lives.”
How You Were Born 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.”
She’s also written a collection of poetry and an award-winning young adult novel. Her forthcoming book of short stores, Householders, will be released in Fall 2021.
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.”
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.”
Updated: Aug. 2020