Boyagoda's parents immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka in 1967 and settled in Oshawa, Ontario, where he was born in 1976. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Toronto in 1999. He received a Master of Arts degree in 2001 and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2005 from Boston University, after which he held a postdoctoral fellowship at Notre Dame University. After serving as Chair of the English Department and as Associate Professor of American Studies at Ryerson University, he became the founding Director of Zone Learning for the university, a position which involves leading the university's effort to provide students from across its programs with opportunities to pursue entrepreneurship in on-campus business incubators. In 2016 Boyagoda was named Principal and Vice President of the University of St. Michael's College and was appointed to the Basilia Chair in Christianity Arts and Letters. He is also became a member of the University of Toronto's English department. As a professor, he teaches courses on the politics of the American novel and literary non-fiction. A novelist, public intellectual, cultural commentator, and literary critic, Boyagoda regularly contributes to a variety of British and North American publications and media. He lives in Toronto with his wife and four daughters.
Boyagoda's first novel, Governor of the Northern Province, was nominated for the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize and published to national acclaim. The deeply satirical novel told the tale of Sam Bokarie, an ex–African warlord who moves to small-town Canada to capitalize on its zealous hospitality. Books in Canada commented, "In his take-no-prisoners novel about politics, immigration, and rock-solid Canadian naiveté, Randy Boyagoda emerges as the Evelyn Waugh of the North." It was described by the National Post as an "auspicious debut."
His second book, a monograph based on his doctoral dissertation, was published in 2008. In this book, he argues that the work of Salman Rushdie, Ralph Ellison, and William Faulkner reveals a century-long transformation of how American identity and experience have been imagined, and that these transformations have been provoked by new forms of immigration and by unanticipated mixings of cultures and ethnic groups. His scholarly work (on such authors as Herman Melville, Don DeLillo, and Flannery O'Connor) has also appeared in journals including the Southern Literary Journal, Studies in American Culture, and South Asian Review.
Boyagoda's second novel, Beggar's Feast, has been published around the world to critical acclaim, by Penguin Canada in 2011, Perera-Hussain (Sri Lanka) and Penguin US in 2012, Harper-Collins India in 2013, and Penguin UK in 2014. Told in four parts, the novel traces the story of Sam Kandy, who is born to low prospects in a Ceylon village in 1899 and dies a hundred years later as the wealthy headman of the same village—a self-made shipping magnate and the father of 16 who's been married three times and widowed twice. Praised by The Globe and Mail as "a post-colonial Gatsby", Sam Kandy is the center of a novel about family, pride, and ambition. Shelagh Rogers of CBC Radio called the novel "swashbuckling", while the National Post described Boyagoda's narrative voice as being "as lush as the tropical landscape of Ceylon" and the New York Times described it as "a gleaming novel that tells the tale of a Ceylonese Odysseus." Beggar's Feast was nominated for the 2012 prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. and named a 2012 New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice selection.
In 2015, Boyagoda published a biography of Richard John Neuhaus, a project supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Neuhaus (1936-2009) was the prolific and influential Catholic priest and New York intellectual whose lifelong effort was to argue for the place of religion in American public life, something he did as a radical Leftist and Lutheran minister and as a neoconservative Catholic priest. Boyagoda's biography, entitled Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square, has met with wide critical attention, with notable reviews running in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Globe and Mail.
As a literary and cultural commentator, Boyagoda is a frequent contributor to magazines and newspapers including the Financial Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, the Paris Review, Harper's Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, First Things, the Walrus, the New York Times, the National Post, and the Globe and Mail, the New Statesman and The Guardian. His criticism includes reviews of Enid Blyton, Haruki Murakami, Orhan Pamuk, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Jose Saramago, among others.