Michael Downs lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with his wife, Sheri Venema, and their dog, Mimsy. He is the author of three books, all set in his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut. His nonfiction and fiction tell stories that often raise questions about the places we live and the communities we create. His first book, House of Good Hope: A Promise for a Broken City (University of Nebraska Press, 2007), combines literary journalism and memoir to tell the stories of five young men he met while working as a newspaper reporter in Hartford. Winner of the River Teeth Prize for Literary Nonfiction, the book explores questions of what people owe the communities that raised them, and how much an individual needs to sacrifice to support that community.
For his second book, The Greatest Show: Stories (Louisiana State University Press, 2012), Michael turned to fiction to explore the aftermath of the historic Hartford Circus Fire of 1944, which killed 168 people. Beginning with the big top fire itself and following generations over some sixty years, the stories ask about the burdens that come with memories and the solace that comes with forgetting. The book was written with support from a literary fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
To write his most recent book, The Strange and True Tale of Horace Wells, Surgeon Dentist, Michael traveled farther back: to 19th-century Hartford and the story of the real-life dentist who introduced general anesthesia to the world. In this novel, Michael mines the gaps in the historical record to imagine the life of Horace Wells who, working with nitrous oxide, performed surgery without pain, ending centuries of human suffering. But Wells's obsession with pain and its destruction ultimately threatened his family, his finances, and his sanity. Acre Books published the novel in May 2018.
As a speaker or visiting writer, Michael has appeared at the Mark Twain House in Hartford; the Oxford Conference for the Book, the Louisiana Book Festival, and several universities, colleges, and high schools.
His freelance articles have appeared in The Millions, AARP: The Magazine, The Hartford Courant, Baltimore Style, and Baltimore Fishbowl. With author Jim Hock, he worked to research and write Hollywood's Team: Grit, Glamour, and the 1950s Los Angeles Rams (Rare Bird Books, 2016). He also works as a book doctor and as a writing consultant/coach.
As a journalist, Michael covered everything from sports to crime to government for newspapers in Arizona, Connecticut, Arkansas, and Montana. He has since taught journalism at the University of Montana and the American Indian Journalism Institute. He currently teaches creative writing at Towson University, where he is a tenured full professor and director of the graduate program in professional writing. In 2021-22, he served as a U.S. Fulbright scholar in Kraków, Poland, affiliated with Jagiellonian University.
Michael's work has been recognized through awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, the Maryland State Arts Council, and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, among others. He is affiliated with Gotham Ghostwriters.
Michael Downs 2018 © All Rights Reserved12