Antonio Michael Downing

Cindy Seip

Antonio Michael Downing is the author of Molasses. He grew up in southern Trinidad, Kitchener and northern Ontario, and Brooklyn, New York. The Toronto-based writer and activist also performs and composes music as John Orpheus. In his memoir Saga Boy: My Life of Blackness and Becoming (Milkweed Editions), Downing tells a story of loss, displacement, and a search for identity. What begins as a happy childhood in a tiny village in the tropical forests of Trinidad – raised by his grandmother, Miss Excelly, and her King James Bible – changes dramatically when she dies. Soon he is shipped off to live with his devoutly evangelical Aunt Joan in rural Canada, where they are the only Black family in the area. Isolated and longing for home, Downing begins a decadeslong journey to transform himself through music and performance, trying on different personas as part of his search – corporate employee, rapper, and musician – before ending up as a “Saga Boy,” a West Indian playboy archetype. When his choices land him in jail, it’s time for a change. Publishers Weekly noted that “suffused with poetic prose that jumps off the page, this inspiring account sings.”