Michael Downing died from cancer on February 9, 2021. He was 62 years old. Read the Boston Globe obituary here.
Michael grew up in the Berkshires, graduated from Harvard College, and spent a year on a fellowship in England. After that, he worked as a contributing editor for the Italian art monthly FMR, the science journal Oceanus, and Harvard Magazine. In addition to his books, he wrote two plays, premiered by the Triangle Theater of Boston and San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theatre. His essays and reviews appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, as well as Smithsonian, Huffington Post, and other online periodicals.
The author of nine books, Michael’s sixth novel, Still in Love, was published in January, 2019. His previous novels include the national bestseller Perfect Agreement, named one of the 10 Best Books of the year by Amazon.com and Newsday, and Breakfast with Scot, a comedy about two gay men who inadvertently become parents. An American Library Association honor book, Breakfast with Scot was adapted as a feature film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The movie won the endorsement of the National Hockey League and the participation of the Toronto Maple Leafs—the first gay-themed movie to be endorsed by a major-league sports authority.
Michael’s nonfiction includes Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center, hailed by the New York Review of Books as a “dramatic and insightful” narrative history of the first Buddhist monastery outside of Asia, and by the Los Angeles Times as “a highly readable book, important for the healing it invites in giving voice to the thoughts and feelings of Zen Center members who have remained silent until now.” He wrote a memoir, Life with Sudden Death: A Tale of Moral Hazard and Medical Misadventures, a cautionary tale about a genetic diagnosis and the dangers he encountered at the frontiers of modern medicine. Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time is his history of clocks, Congress, and a century of international confusion that is “perceptive” (Wall Street Journal), “zany” (The New Republic), and “fun to read” (Associated Press). And twice a year, as we changed our clocks, Michael turned up and tried to untangle this endless controversy on network and cable TV news programs, NPR and radio stations around the world, as well as newspapers and periodicals.
Michael taught creative writing at Tufts University. He and his husband, Peter Bryant, lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts.