St. Olaf College | News

Ole authors’ new books gain attention

A St. Olaf College alum’s chronicle of growing up gay in small-town North Dakota is earning national attention, including a New York Times review calling it a “truly great” and “frighteningly relevant” memoir.

Taylor Brorby ‘10, author of the memoir Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land, is one of two Ole authors who released books featuring queer representation during the June celebration of Pride Month.  Brian Kennedy ‘02 just released a young adult novel, A Little Bit Country, that sets a romance about two boys who fall in love against the backdrop of a country music theme park.

Taylor Brorby ’10

Brorby, the Annie Tanner Clark Fellow in Environmental Humanities and Environmental Justice at the University of Utah, teaches courses on and writes and speaks about issues including the environment and hydraulic fracking, queerness, disability, climate change, and rural literature. He says writing Boys and Oil was about understanding the importance of representation.

“I wrote this book because no book like it existed for me when I grew up in the small, 600-person town of Center, North Dakota,” he says. “If you grow up without a story of a person like you where you live, how can you ever hope to feel rooted?”

Brorby’s descriptions of his hometown evoke vivid imagery as he discusses the turmoil caused by mining and fracking. Many of his descriptions of the disrupted environment where he grew up serve as metaphors for his childhood.

“To my knowledge, this is the first memoir about growing up gay on the rural Great Plains and the Intermountain West — that’s a huge region and a large gap in literature that needs to be filled,” he says.

Brian Kennedy ’02

Kennedy, who works at an LGBTQ nonprofit organization in New York City,  drew inspiration for his novel, A Little Bit Country, from his love for country music and Dollywood.

He found a way to connect his passion for storytelling and his appreciation for country music, despite obstacles.

“Country music hasn’t always been inclusive, but I do believe there’s a large queer audience for it,” he says. “So for me, it felt really special to be able to write a story that celebrates both country music and the LGBTQ community.”

 The novel, with a setting inspired by Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park, is lighthearted. But it also dives into important, weightier topics.

“One of the themes I wanted to explore was authenticity — how to be your true self, and how that may look different for people, especially through a queer lens, where not everyone is in an environment where they feel safe or ready to come out,” Kennedy says.

Kennedy has another young adult novel in the works that should be available in the summer of 2023.