Recently, I had the pleasure of participating virtually in an author interview event, which was presented in partnership by Wordsworth Books and the Waterloo Public Library.
The guest of the evening was Antonio Downing, musician, author and song writer. Although born in Trinidad, Antonio told his audience that he has lived in the K/W area longer than any place in his life. He credits coaches for helping him fit in while going to school here, both in high school and at the University of Waterloo, where he attended
His grandmother brought him up until she died when he was just twelve. He spoke fondly of her and how she had influenced his life. He still remembers hymns which he learned while on his grandma’s lap. It is so sad that he was uprooted, especially at such an early age. He and his brother were sent to a small northern community in a foreign land-Canada, to live with a stern aunt. The fact that he and his brother were the only kids of colour in town made life even harder.
At one point he reunited with his parents which was another disappointment in his life, so he went on his own attempting to transform himself by music and performing, trying every form of music including, pop, rock, punk and rap. He even tried to be a soul crooner in an attempt to made himself somebody he wasn’t.
Today, Antonio is a successful musician, song writer and author, He plays numerous kinds of instruments and still enjoys many types of music not only jazz and soul.
In his latest book, a memoir entitled, Saga Boy, My Life of Blackness and Becoming, he speaks of the evils of colonialism. The picture on the cover of Saga Boy is the back of a black child’s head. This speaks volumes about how the child thinks of himself.
During the interview, Antonio made the profound statement that you have to make peace with your past before you can plan your future. He knows this to be true because it was not until he was forced to finally face his true self, that he was able to finally reclaim his heritage and blackness.
Antonio has written two books: Molasses and Saga Boy. When asked what message he wants to leave regarding writing, his response was , “Write your own story. Be yourself. Don’t let someone else write your story. You don’t need to impress others. Just impress yourself.”
He also said while writing, if you get stuck, don’t force the answer. Leave your work for awhile. It is during that time away, that the problem gets solved. And as a fellow writer, I know this to be true.
During the interview, it was obvious that he was comfortable and enjoyed sharing about his life and career even though it was deeply personal. He was vulnerable, funny and even burst out in song several times during the interview.
Although there have been many worthwhile events within the city celebrating Black History Month, I’m sure this interview was greatly enjoyed by all who attended, including myself.