Oregon Author Brian Doyle Dies At 60

By Katrina Sarson (OPB) and Julia Oppenheimer (OPB)
May 27, 2017 9:51 p.m.
Book Readings and more of Brian Doyle's novels can be found at Powells Books here in Portland, Oregon.

Book Readings and more of Brian Doyle's novels can be found at Powells Books here in Portland, Oregon.

Oregon Art Beat

Award-winning Oregon author Brian Doyle died at his home in Lake Oswego Saturday after a months-long struggle with cancer.

He was known for his essays and novels that brought Oregon people and land to life. He was 60.

Doyle grew up in New York, the son of a newspaperman and a teacher.  He often cited his father as his inspiration to become a writer, remembering that he grew up in a “storytelling household.”

He described his childhood as training to observe and write down the stories that surrounded him. Doyle called himself “a story-catcher.”

He earned his degree from the University of Notre Dame, then worked in Chicago and Boston before becoming the editor of the University of Portland’s Portland Magazine in 1991.

Doyle was a prolific author of essays about subjects from the Pacific Islands to children to spirituality, and his work appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Orion, The Sun and anthologies like Best American Essays, and Best American Spiritual Writing, among others.

Related: A Guide To Some Of Brian Doyle's Best Works

He also wrote several novels, which he described as a very different creative process.

“I love writing novels, novels are like long dreams,” Doyle told OPB last year at the Wordstock Book Festival in Portland. “You really don’t know what’s going on, you take an idea out for a walk, and then the characters take over… and you really run along behind them, typing as fast as you can.”

Doyle was often teased for his lack of punctuation, his run-on narrative and the way he made the non-human characters as important as the human ones.


He was fond of telling a story about how his brother sent him a letter that was just a page full of commas after the publication of his breakout novel, “Mink River.”

“You might want to learn to use these,” his brother joked.

But his unique style is what set his writing apart.

“He tends to be able to find the right word to describe things for which you don’t even know there are words.” said Bill Baars, director of the Lake Oswego library, and a good friend of Doyle’s.

“Immediately you’re swept up in the flow of his writing.”

In an Oregon Art Beat profile in 2015, Doyle spoke about the importance of being a “story catcher:”

“You want your stories to keep traveling long past you. I want them to travel everywhere,” he said.

“I would like everybody in the world to read my stories, and not because I’m cool, or because I’ll get money. But because stories matter. Stories are ways to jazz your life and maybe that shoves us a little closer toward light.”

Doyle was nominated for the Oregon Book Award nine times and finally won in 2016 for his young adult novel “Martin Marten.”

His essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Orion, The American Scholar, The Sun, The Georgia Review, among others, and in newspapers and magazines around the world, including The New York Times and The Times of London.

Doyle credits his wife and children with helping hone his writing skills and remind him of reality.

One of his books was inspired by his experiences as a father and the challenges his family encountered when one of his sons was born with a heart condition.

“We are only here for a minute, we are here for a little window, and to use that time to catch and share shards of light and laughter and grace seems to me the great story,” he said in the Oregon Art Beat profile. “And I love that work.”

Doyle is survived by his wife, Mary, and their three children.

A memorial service is planned Friday, June 2, at 11:30 a.m. at St. Mary's Cathedral in downtown Portland.