Antonio Michael Downing: “The mask is how we unleash [our stories]”

Raised “in the lush rainforest of southern Trinidad,” Antonio Michael Downing’s life was interrupted at age 11 when his caretaker grandmother passed. Uprooted and sent to live in Canada, Downing arrived in northern Ontario in a tiny, frostbitten community with no other Black people besides his Auntie Joan.

In Saga Boy: My Life of Blackness and Becoming, Downing takes readers through his story: from six cities in four years of high school, to seeking identity in music and touring with Liam Gallagher, to surviving abuse. From the book blurb:

He is re-united with his birth parents who he has known only through stories. But this proves disappointing: Al is a womanizing con man and drug addict, and Gloria, twice abandoned by Al, seems to regard her sons as cash machines.

He tries to flee his messy family life by transforming into a series of extravagant musical personalities: “Mic Dainjah,” a punk rock rapper, “Molasses,” a soul music crooner and finally “John Orpheus,” a gold chained, sequin- and leather-clad pop star. Yet, like his father and grandfather, he has become a “Saga Boy,” a Trinidadian playboy, addicted to escapism, attention, and sex. When the inevitable crash happens, he finds himself in a cold, stone jail cell. He has become everything he was trying to escape and must finally face himself.