How You Were Born

How You Were Born

by Kate Cayley
  • critically-acclaimed
  • from-ontario
  • lgbtq
  • literary
  • short-stories

How You Were Born is a collection of short stories looking at the bizarre, the tragi-comic, and the unbelievable elements that run through our lives. Two children believe their neighbours are war criminals in hiding. A dwarf in a circus dreams of a perfect wedding. An eleven-year-old girl becomes obsessed with the acrobat who visits her small town. A group of siblings put their senile Holocaust survivor father into institutional care, while failing to notice that he is reliving the past. Each story examines, from a different angle, the difficult business of love, loyalty, and memory.

With elegance and restraint, in spare language, Cayley’s narratives run the gamut from realistic to uncanny, from ordinary epiphanies to extremities of experience. Settings range from present-day Toronto, to small town Ontario in 1914, to West Virginia in 1967, characters ranging from the very young to the very old, the manifestly unhinged to the ostensibly sane. These are dark stories in which light finds a foothold, and in which connections, frequently missed or mislaid, offer redemption.


Kate Cayley, author

Kate Cayley is a fiction writer, playwright, and poet. She has written a short story collection, How You Were Born (Pedlar Press), a collection of poetry, When This World Comes to an End (Brick Books), and a young adult novel, The Hangman in the Mirror (Annick Press), which won the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction. A second collection of poetry, Other Houses, was recently published by Brick Books.

Cayley is the co-founder and artistic director of Stranger Theatre, and has co-created, directed, and written eight plays with the company; her work with Stranger Theatre has been seen in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City and Istanbul. She has been a playwright-in-residence at Tarragon Theatre since 2009, and has written two plays for Tarragon, After Akhmatova and The Bakelite Masterpiece. She lives in Toronto with her partner and their three children.


  • Years ago, I was lucky enough to take a fiction writing class at Penn with the late, great cultural critic John Leonard. I was reminded recently—while reading Kate Cayley’s remarkable short story collection How You Were Born—of a story he told our class. A year earlier he met with his friend Elie Wiesel for lunch and coffee at a diner on the upper West side, and Wiesel appeared distraught. His wife was pregnant, and Wiesel felt miserable about the idea of having a child. He didn’t see how he could possibly bring a child into a world where the Holocaust is possible. A year later, shortly before our class, they met again. This time Leonard found Wiesel already there, at the same table, but his demeanor was completely changed. He stood up and greeted Leonard warmly. There wasn’t a trace of distress in his manner. When Leonard sat down, Wiesel handed him a huge photo album to look through, sharing what seemed like hundreds of photographs of the new baby. How You Were Born is an archive of anxiety. - Cleaver magazine Link to review


  • Trillium Book Award 2015
  • Nominee Governor General's Award for Fiction

Rights Holder

Rights Holder: Pedlar Press



rights sold: French (Canada)

rights available: World, excl. French

Additional Information

age range: 13 and up

number of pages: 152

publication date: 10/15/2014

Original language of pub: English

Materials Available: finished book