Brian Doyle (writer)

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Brian Doyle (born 12 August 1935)[1] is a Canadian writer of novels and short stories. His children's books have been adapted into movies and plays. Many of his stories are drawn from his experiences growing up in the Ottawa area. He was awarded the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature in 2005[2] and was twice a finalist for the Hans Christian Andersen Award.[3][4]

His writings evoke a strong sense of location, reflecting urban Ottawa and the Gatineau Valley. Angel Square[5] and Easy Avenue are set in Ottawa in the 1940s and 50's; Spud Sweetgrass represents Ottawa in the early 1990s. Uncle Ronald and Covered Bridgedraw on Brian Doyle's childhood memories of the Ottawa

Early life[edit]

Doyle was born and grew up in an ethnically-diverse section of Ottawa, Ontario, spending summers with his family at a log cabin on the Gatineau River near Low, Quebec. His upbringing was made difficult by a father who drank excessively and a mother worn out from caring for his mentally disabled older sister.[6] He attended Glebe Collegiate Institute,[1] where he participated in sports and wrote poetry for the school yearbook, but also fought, stole, and skipped school. He began writing short stories, some of which he submitted to magazines. Doyle then attended Carleton University in Ottawa, where he majored in journalism, and met his future wife. Before graduation, Doyle won a prize for an essay he wrote about the Gatineau River Valley.


After graduation, Doyle worked as a reporter for the Toronto Telegram. He soon left this job to teach high school in Ottawa. He took courses at University of Ottawa towards a master's degree in literature, but did not write a thesis.

While working as a teacher, Doyle wrote a column for a local newspaper and published a short story in the literary magazine Fiddlehead. After he and his wife began to participate in local theater, Doyle began writing plays for his students. He also wrote an article criticizing teacher training which was quoted in The Globe and Mail. Doyle was hired as head of Glebe Collegiate's English department.[7] He wrote a number of student plays there, including ten musicals and a satirical parody of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Doyle he retired from teaching in 1991.


Doyle's first book for young readers, Hey, Dad!, written for his daughter Megan, was published Groundwood Books in 1978.[7]

Doyle's first young-adult novel, Up to Low, was set in Quebec's Gatineau Hills, and based on his childhood experiences at his family's cabin.[8][9] Angel Square is set in the Lower Town area of Ottawa, and portrays the futility of the racial tensions between the neighbourhood's children. One of the characters in the story is based on Doyle's mentally handicapped sister Pamela.

Doyle's continued to write novels for teens and young adults: Uncle Ronald (1996), a story about hundred-year-old "Crazy Mickey";[10] Easy Avenue, about an impoverished orphan growing up with an elderly relative; and Covered Bridge, a ghost story about moral injustice and historical preservation.

Doyle also wrote two comic mysteries about a half-Irish, half-Ojibway teen, Spud Sweetgrass and Spud in Winter.


Doyle married Jackie Aronson, and she gave birth to two children, twin boys. In 2013 he lived in Chelsea, Quebec.[1]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature, 2005, for body of work[2][11]
  • Book of the Year Award, Canadian Library Association (CLA), 1983, Up to Low, and 1989, Easy Avenue
  • Mr. Christie's Book Award, Canadian Children's Book Centre/Communications Jeunesse, 1990, Covered Bridge
  • Vicky Metcalf Award, Canadian Authors Association, 1991, body of work
  • CLA Book of the Year Award, 1997, Uncle Ronald
  • Mr. Christie's Book Award, 1997, Uncle Ronald
  • Hans Christian Andersen Award, finalist 1998, body of work[4]
  • National Chapter Award, 2001, Mary Ann Alice[12]
  • Leishman Prize, 2001, Mary Ann Alice[12]
  • Mr. Christie's Book Award, silver seal 2001, Mary Ann Alice
  • Hans Christian Andersen Award, finalist 2008, body of work[3]


You Can Pick Me up at Peggy's Cove was made into a film directed by Don McBrearty and into a video released by Beacon Films, Inc., in 1982. Peggy's Cove, Angel Square and Easy Avenue have been released as audio books. Meet the Author: Brian Doyle was released as a short film in 1987. Angel Square was made into a film directed by Ann Wheeler and released by the National Film Board of Canada in 1990. Pure Spring, Boy O'Boy and Easy Avenue were adapted for the stage by students at Glebe Collegiate, and Up to Low was performed as a play Featherston Public School.

In 2015, Janet Irwin's adaptation of Up to Low was staged at the Ottawa Children's Theatre.[13]


  • Hey, Dad! (Groundwood, 1978)[12]
  • You Can Pick Me Up at Peggy's Cove (Groundwood, 1978)
  • Up to Low (Groundwood, 1982)
  • Angel Square (Groundwood, 1984)
  • Easy Avenue (Groundwood, 1988)
  • Covered Bridge (Groundwood, 1990)
  • Spud Sweetgrass (Groundwood, 1992)
  • Spud in Winter (Groundwood, 1995)
  • Uncle Ronald (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1996) – "A Groundwood book." OCLC 166262634
  • The Low Life: Five Great Tales from Up and Down the River (Groundwood, 1999)
  • Mary Ann Alice (Groundwood, 2001)[5]
  • Boy O'Boy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2003)
  • Pure Spring (Groundwood Books, 2007), OCLC 74028920


  1. ^ a b c "Brian Doyle: Old men these days". Bruce Deachman, The Ottawa Citizen, 01.03.2013
  2. ^ a b "2005 NSK Neustadt Laureate Brian Doyle". Archived July 20, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b "IBBY Announces Winners of 2008 Hans Christian Andersen Awards". International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Press release 31 March 2008.
      "Hans Christian Andersen Awards". IBBY. Retrieved 2013-07-22.
  4. ^ a b "Candidates for the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 1956–2002"[permanent dead link][permanent dead link]. The Hans Christian Andersen Awards, 1956–2002. IBBY. Gyldendal. 2002. Pages 110–18. Hosted by Austrian Literature Online ( Retrieved 2013-07-19.[dead link]
  5. ^ a b "Mary Ann Alice". Quill & Quire,
  6. ^ "The DOYLETOUCH". Ottawa Citizen 2007-03-25
  7. ^ a b "Brian Doyle: You Have to Think and Feel Like Your Readers". By Mary Budziszewski, CM Magazine, Volume 19 Number 2, 1991 March
  8. ^ "Up to Low and back again: Building a play one donation at a time". Peter Robb, Ottawa Citizen March 17, 2015
  9. ^ "Up to Low". Review by Libby McKeever. CM Magazine, CM . . . . Volume XI Number 18 . . . .May 13, 2005
  10. ^ "REVIEWS: Uncle Ronald". Quill & Quire, reviewed by Maureen Garvie.
  11. ^ "Showtime for Children's Literature" ( Archived August 23, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ a b c "Brian Doyle (1935) Biography". Brief Biographies. Retrieved 22 March 2010.
  13. ^ "Theatre review: Up to Low a dark, funny tale". Ottawa Citizen, Patrick Langston. May 25, 2015

External links[edit]