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Work Samples

"Jim at 2 a.m.: Something like Opera"

The following work samples are all drawn from my new nonfiction manuscript, "Isn't it Fun How We Shine: A Neighborhood Memoir of the Great Recession Years." The collection of more than 60 flash nonfictions shapes several narratives about a spirited working class Baltimore neighborhood during troubled times.

Originally published by The Southern Review, "Jim at 2 a.m.: Something like Opera" collects several of the essays to create a portrait of a self-destructive neighbor whose anger strengthens community bonds. (8 pp.)

PDF icon "Jim at 2 a.m.: Something like Opera"

"Open House," "Crossword Puzzles"

"Open House" and "Crossword Puzzles" are two flash nonfictions that appeared in a special 2019 issue of The Baltimore Review featuring Maryland writers. In this work, I write about myself in third person. The larger work from which these are taken, "Isn't it Fun How We Shine?", is about my neighborhood, not about me. I am one of many characters here, not the primary one. (3 pp.)

PDF icon "Open House," "Crossword Puzzles"

Super Bowl Ring

A single nonfiction essay from "Isn't It Fun How We Shine?":
"Super Bowl Ring" first appeared in Sport Literate magazine. (One page)

PDF icon Super Bowl Ring

The Morning After His Family Buried Freddie Gray

"The Morning After His Parents Buried Freddie Gray" was first published by American Short Fiction Online and later republished at Lithub. (1 pg)

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About Michael

Baltimore City

Michael Downs's picture
Michael Downs lives in Baltimore's Hamilton neighborhood where he writes literary fiction and nonfiction. His most recent project, Isn't it Fun How We Shine: A Neighborhood Memoir of the Great Recession Years, is a manuscript of literary art inspired his neighbors and their struggles during the Great Recession. The manuscript, currently in circulation with editors, is comprised of more than 60 flash nonfiction essays, along with illustrations. Several have already been published by The Southern Review... more

NONFICTION: Isn't It Fun How We Shine?

This Baker project presents more work excerpted from my flash nonfiction manuscript, "Isn't It Fun How We Shine" that is introduced above in the "Work Samples" section.

"Neighbors, Gathered" is forthcoming in "Alaska Quarterly Review."
"Double Play" appeared in "Sport Literate."

FICTION: The Strange and True Tale of Horace Wells, Surgeon Dentist: A Novel

"Pain has no limits. It's infinite. Like God."

This novel, published by Acre Books in May 2018, reimagines the life of Horace Wells, a Connecticut dentist and anesthesia pioneer. Its first chapters received a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council. It was a finalist for the Foreword Book of the Year in Historical Fiction. The Los Angeles Review of Books called it "hypnotic" and "a fascinating story."

In December 1844, Wells encountered nitrous oxide, or laughing gas—then an entertainment for performers in carnival-like theatrical acts—and began administering the gas as the first true anesthetic. His discovery would change the world, reshaping medicine and humanity’s relationship with pain.

But that discovery would also thrust Wells into scandals that threatened his reputation, his family, and his sanity—hardships and triumphs that resonate in today’s opioid epidemic and our ongoing grappling with what hurts us and what we take to stop the hurt.

  • A tool of 19th-century dentistry for the cover

    Horace Wells, Michael Downs, Acre Books
    The cover of THE STRANGE AND TRUE TALE OF HORACE WELLS, SURGEON DENTIST: A NOVEL, designed by Barbara Neely Bourgoyne and published by Acre Books, May 2018.
  • The Strange and True Tale of Horace Wells, Surgeon Dentist

    This video serves as a book trailer for my novel, The Strange and True Tale of Horace Wells, Surgeon Dentist. The film was shot and edited by David Grossbach. The script and narration are mine. (I also served as camera and prop assistant)
  • Wells excerpt

    In this excerpt from The Strange and True Tale of Horace Wells, Surgeon Dentist, the main character has his tooth pulled while on nitrous oxide, the first instance of painless surgery in human history. "Thus does the map of the known world widen and its mysteries multiply."

    PDF icon Wells excerpt

FICTION: The Greatest Show

THE GREATEST SHOW: STORIES, a collection of ten linked short stories published by Louisiana State University Press. Three of the stories received special commendation in the Best American Short Stories series as "distinguished stories."

THE BOOK
Fire sweeps along the wall of a circus tent while inside thousands of people enjoy a Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey matinee. Within minutes, flames consume the canvas and vast sections collapse, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more.

Inspired by the 1944 Hartford Circus Fire, the interconnected stories in Michael Downs's The Greatest Show explore how kindness and time work in the aftermath of disaster.

NONFICTION: House of Good Hope: A Promise for a Broken City

HOUSE OF GOOD HOPE: A PROMISE FOR A BROKEN CITY combines reportage and memoir to tells the true story of five young men who met as high school athletes and who as a group pledged their lives to Hartford, Connecticut, promising to bring college degrees home and to live and work in their broken city. It won the River Teeth Prize for Literary Nonfiction and was a finalist for both the Saroyan Prize and the Connecticut Book Award in Biography and Memoir. It was published by the University of Nebraska Press.

The stories of the young protagonists involve murder, love, sacrifice, success at the highest levels of college football, marriage, birth and death, a beating at the hands of police, a drug-sting that fells a high school coach, and a final reunion of friends who have learned how hard it is to simultaneously love their city and live for the future. The book also traces the life of the author’s family through four generations as they live in and leave Hartford, abandoning the author’s ailing grandparents to a city that shows little mercy. The book explores essential questions: What happens to those we leave behind? How do we make peace with the past we have sacrificed? How do we make peace with ourselves when we can no longer help the places – the Hartfords – that we once called home?

  • The cover of HOUSE OF GOOD HOPE

    River Teeth, House of Good Hope, Hartford, Hartford Public High School, Michael Downs
    The cover for HOUSE OF GOOD HOPE: A PROMISE FOR A BROKEN CITY, winner of the River Teeth Prize for Literary Nonfiction. The cover background is detail from a quilt, "All that Amazing Jazz," by Hartford, Connecticut quilt artist Ed Johnetta Miller. Photo by John Ryan.
  • downs_hogh.pdf

    These are the prologue and first chapter of HOUSE OF GOOD HOPE: A PROMISE FOR A BROKEN CITY, winner of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize.

    PDF icon downs_hogh.pdf

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