Taylor Prize Emerging Author Antonio Michael Downing continues to emerge Big Time. IT was announced earlier this month that his Canadian bestseller SAGA BOY has been launched in the US. "Having worked in and adored America, warts and all, it's my honour to launch my memoir there on Sept 14th ], the publisher is Milkweed Editions."
If you have pigged out on poulourie, studied from Nelson’s West Indian Reader or had a rumbo yell at you walking home from school, then Antonio Michael Downing’s Saga Boy, My Life Of Blackness And Becoming speaks to you. This Saga Boy is a local musician, writer, and activist.
This is the real deal that takes readers from Trinidad’s Monkey Town to the wilds of Northern Ontario and finally to fame and fortune here in the Six. Don’t recognize the name? Maybe you know him as Mic Dainjah, Molasses or have caught him on stage playing cutting edge music under the name John Orpheus.
“Throughout the years, I would give myself many names,” writes Downing in his new book. “They called me Tony in Trinidad, Michael in the gleaming boardrooms of corporate Canada, Mic Dainjah when I toured England with my rock ’n’ roll heroes, Molasses when I crooned soul songs, and Mike D. when I plucked the banjo at folk festivals. Finally, I became John or J.O. or John Orpheus, my boldest, baddest self.”
This is a deeply personal account of a young immigrant's search for belonging and black identity amid the long-lasting effects of cultural dislocation. His memoir of creativity and transformation is a startling mash-up of memories and mythology.
Raised by his indomitable grandmother in Monkey Town’s lush rainforest in southern Trinidad, Downing, at age 11 (“when Poulourie was my everything”), is uprooted to Canada when she dies leaving no one in T&T to look after him.
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.
This is not Downing’s first book. His 2010 debut novel, Molasses was published to critical acclaim. In 2017 he was named by the RBC Taylor Prize as one of Canada's top Emerging Authors for nonfiction.
He still performs and composes music as John Orpheus. His music can be heard in the recently aired 10-part Netflix ballet thriller Tiny Pretty Things.
Close but no cigar (but $2,500 in cash)
Desmond Cole was a finalist for the recently held 2021 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.
The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing is an annual Canadian literary award, presented by the Writers’ Trust of Canada to the best nonfiction book on Canadian political and social issues.
The Prize was established in honour of the late Ms. Shaughnessy Cohen an outspoken and popular Liberal MP from Windsor who died after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage in the House of Commons after standing to address the House.
The winner of the Shaughnessy Prize was Ron Diebert, He took the first prizee of $25,000 for his book “Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society".
Toronto activist and journalist Desmond Cole and former member of Parliament Celina Caesar-Chavannes are among the four finalists for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. Caesar-Chavannes was a contender for her memoir “Can You Hear Me Now?: How I Found My Voice and Learned to Live with Passion and Purpose,” Cole is nominated for his bestselling debut “The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power,”, examining the struggle against systemic anti-Black racism in Canada. Both won $2,500 for being a finalist.