From Peoria to Colorado to New York City, this award-winning author took the publishing world by storm.

She came into this world at 5:22 on the morning of January 22, 1978 at Saint Francis Hospital in Peoria, Illinois. Bruce and Lynne Brown named their daughter Erin Christine, and the couple lived here in Peoria until she was five years old. After her parents’ divorce, Erin went with her mother to Grand Junction, Colorado, where she discovered her love for horses and the great outdoors. After high school, she went on to Colorado State University and the University of Montana, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. It was there that she wrote a short story entitled “Foaling Season,” under the name Aryn Kyle.

A Career Takes Off
“Foaling Season” was published in The Atlantic Monthly, and that really marked the turning point in her life. She used the story as the first chapter in her debut novel, The God Of Animals, published by Scribner in 2007. It became an international bestseller—the year’s number-one fiction debut, according to Amazon.com.

In 2010, Scribner published Aryn’s second book, Boys and Girls Like You and Me, a collection of short stories that earned marvelous reviews and accolades from The Atlantic Monthly and Best New American Short Stories. Her work has been translated into 20 languages, and her second novel, Hinterland, is forthcoming from Riverhead, a division of Penguin Group.

Aryn Kyle has been the recipient of numerous coveted awards for her novels and short stories. She won a National Magazine Award for fiction in 2004, and a year later, she received the Rona Jaffe Foundation Award, given annually to up-and-coming women writers. In 2008, she took home the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award and the Mountains and Plains Independent Association Award for The God Of Animals. That year was good to her—she also won an American Library Association Alex Award and the Spur Award for Best Novel of the West.

Back Home in Peoria
Aryn has a delightful memory of her early years in Peoria, and fondly recalls visits to see her father and relatives. “You know Norm, I don’t remember the addresses where I lived and visited, but I remember the houses,” she says. “I loved my grandfather’s gardens, which covered a huge plot of ground behind my grandparents’ house. I would follow him around, helping him plant the seeds and pull up the weeds. I even remember him giving me a special spot of ground for my own little garden of carrots and strawberries. As much as I love my home here in Manhattan, I often fantasize about having a place in upstate New York where I can have my own garden.”

I marvel at Aryn’s ability to recollect the vivid details of her years in her old hometown. “I went to a preschool called Big Top, and although I was only four or so, I still remember the faces of teachers—and most of the kids as well. We had Christmas recitals, and I played the part of a crayon. I remember the excitement of coming to school one day and finding our classroom had been turned into a giant spaceship: the circus we put up at the end of the school year for our parents. They are all such wonderful memories for me!

“I remember my dad taking me on the Julia Belle Swain,” she continues. “I thought it was the most beautiful thing, with the most beautiful name. I used to stand at the back of the boat and watch the red paddlewheel go round and round. We took trips in his Fiat convertible through Detweiller Park, and I remember looking at all those trees, thinking it was impossible for a park to be so big. I grew up in the desert, which was a different kind of beauty.

“Norm, the truth is that my fondest memories of Peoria are of food. I am an absolute foodie… which I definitely got from my father. [Bruce Brown is the proprietor of Paparazzi’s, the longstanding Italian restaurant in Peoria Heights.] I loved his restaurant. I loved his waitresses, who always seemed to be so very, very cool. I loved to sit back in the kitchen and watch my dad work over the giant, hissing stove—stirring, sautéing and grilling—flipping a filet in a pan, then popping something out of the oven. He seemed like a conductor in front of an orchestra. I would sit in a little chair in front of an oscillating fan and watch him for hours.”

In Old New York
“I always knew I wanted to live in New York City, ever since I was a kid,” Aryn notes dreamily of the city where she’s laid her head for over five years. “I’ve had a crush on New York as long as I can remember. When the other girls were hanging pictures of dewy-eyed pop stars over their beds, I was hanging up pictures of the New York skyline.

“New York is a place where all misfits seem to come, and I feel very at home here,” she adds. “I live on the Upper East Side in a tiny sixth-floor walkup, just two blocks from the East River. I feel safe and free here. No matter how high the trash is stacked at the curb, or when the streets are icy and gross, there’s never a time I step outside my apartment when I don’t look around and think with a thrill: I can’t believe I live here.” a&s

Norm Kelly is a Peoria historian, true-crime writer and author of 12 books and hundreds of short stories. He can be reached at [email protected]