Saga Boy

A book by Antonio Michael Downing.

Antonio Michael Downing

Antonio Michael Downing's memoir of creativity and transformation is a startling mash-up of memories and mythology, told in gripping, lyrical prose. Raised by his indomitable grandmother in the lush rainforest of southern Trinidad, Downing, at age 11, is uprooted to Canada when she dies. But to a very unusual part of Canada: he and his older brother are sent to live with his stern, evangelical Aunt Joan, in Wabigoon, a tiny northern Ontario community where they are the only black children in the town. In this wilderness, he begins his journey as an immigrant minority, using music and performance to dramatically transform himself. At the heart of his odyssey is the longing for a home. 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.

Richly evocative, Saga Boy is a heart-wrenching but uplifting story of a lonely immigrant boy who overcomes adversity and abandonment to reclaim his black identity and embrace a rich heritage. (From Viking)

Antonio Michael Downing is a musician, writer and activist who now lives in Toronto. He published his first book, the novel Molasses, in 2010. In 2017, he was named one of five writers to participate in the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writers Mentorship Program.

Why Antonio Michael Downing wrote Saga Boy

"My grandfather was a Saga Boy, a Trinidad playboy. The only picture I ever saw of him — he died when I was young — is of him in a fedora, a three-piece suit with a small pocket square, and his hat tilted just so. His eyes look like the pitch of the oil fields where he used to work, and he had money at a time where most people didn't. He also had many women in many places. That's Herbert Downing. That's part of the legacy.

To understand myself, I had to understand my parents and my grandparents.- Antonio Michael Downing

"To understand myself, I had to understand my parents and my grandparents. To understand them, I had to understand their context. He was a Black man in a British colony with no autonomy. 

"It's an emasculating, disempowering situation. And a Saga Boy was my grandfather's way of responding to that life. It's a toxic way of responding to it, but that was his legacy. He handed it down to my father, to me, to my brothers, like the family jewels."

Read more from his interview with The Next Chapter.

Interviews with Antonio Michael Downing

Antonio Michael Downing on his memoir, Saga Boy: My Life of Blackness and Becoming.

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