Michael Downs lives in Baltimore's Hamilton neighborhood where he writes literary fiction and nonfiction. His most recent project, Trying to Find My Li’l All n All, is a book of literary art inspired by art. Combining memoir, literary journalism, and song biography, this book explores questions of happiness and sorrow raised by "Sitting on Top of the World," a Grammy Hall of Fame song that has fascinated Downs for nearly three decades.
The project grows out of a personal essay Downs wrote and published in The Georgia Review (Summer 2017). That essay details his road trip to discover the song's roots and how its ironies speak to the ways we negotiate hurt and joy, especially in the person of Downs's mother who suffered devastating chronic pain. His other nonfiction includes the book, House of Good Hope: A Promise for a Broken City (University of Nebraska Press), which won the River Teeth Prize for Literary Nonfiction, and Isn't It Fun How We Shine, an ongoing collection of essays supported by a 2016-17 Ruby Grant. Parts of that manuscript have been published or are forthcoming in The Southern Review, Sport Literate, and Literary Hub. With Jim Hock, he co-wrote Hollywood's Team: Grit, Glamour, and the 1950s Los Angeles Rams (Rare Bird Books).
Downs's fiction includes his forthcoming debut novel, The Strange and True Tale of Horace Wells, Surgeon Dentist, which Acre Books will publish in May 2018. He is also the author of the linked story collection, The Greatest Show (Louisiana State University Press), inspired by the famous Hartford Circus Tent Fire of 1944, which killed 168 people. His fiction has appeared in the journals Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, New Letters, The Georgia Review, Gettysburg Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Five Points, among others.
A native of Hartford, Connecticut, he has also lived in Arizona and Montana, moving to Baltimore in 2007 to teach creative writing at Towson University. A one-time newspaper reporter, he shifted to literary work by earning his MFA in creative writing at the University of Arkansas, where he also worked as a restaurant critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state's largest-circulation newspaper. He has taught journalism or creative writing at Towson, the University of Montana, and the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota.
Among his awards are a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and fellowships or grants from the Maryland State Arts Council, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Anderson Center Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. Three of his short stories were named "distinguished" stories in the Best American Short Stories series, and two were anthologized in the Best American Mystery Stories series.