He is a spellbinding storyteller and a generous one.* Anthony De Sa's Barnacle Love (2008) and Kicking the Sky (2013) are vibrant, gritty fictional explorations of Portuguese-Canadian life, particularly childhood, in Toronto. He is now at work on a novel with very different themes, which I'll let him explain:
"My three uncles all served in the Portuguese army during the colonial wars," he told me. "To this day they will not speak of what it is they experienced. I have tried often to delve into this, but my prying is always met with a cold stare before they leave the room.
"As a writer, I’m constantly asking the question, What if? So... what if a young Maasai child is born with albinism, and instead of being killed through a trial by ordeal, as is the custom, she survives. What if that young girl grows strong and determined to find a place and someone else to accept her for who she is? What if she chooses to look for the place she has grown up with, only in stories -- the Garden of Eden?
"What if she thinks she’s found it only to have to share it with a young Portuguese soldier who has run away from a war he doesn’t agree with? What if?
"I am about a third of the way in," he noted. "Lots will change."
This is Anthony's writing space in his home in midtown Toronto (near Little Portugal? "Always there," he said):
1. I love my orange Embody chair, designed for Herman Miller. This is the descriptor that comes with the chair: "The first work chair designed specifically to create harmony between your body and your computer. More than just an ergonomic chair, Embody keeps you alert, keeps you aligned, keeps your blood and creative juices flowing." SOLD! and I must say having a good chair makes all the difference when I'm caught up with writing and things are going well. It keeps me there longer.
2. Jack and Jill brand homogenized peanut butter tin (far right.) I can see it on the ledge when I'm working. It's rusted and dented, but the graphics of the two characters tumbling down the hill remind me of childhood -- a tricky, yet simpler time. Next to it is a wooden relief carving of a face. It was given to me by Ruth, who walks her dog at the same park I walk mine. She knew I had travelled to Tanzania to meet with children and families living with albinism. Their plight and that place play a significant role in the novel I am currently working on. Tanzania was where she grew up as a daughter of missionaries. When her father passed away, she gave me this carving. It was his, and I was touched, as I always am, by the generosity of people.
3. Jumble of postcards and clay figures. This part of the room is always changing. I have a ceramic swallow I bought in Lisbon and a jellyfish made by Jennifer Galliott at Galliott Studios in Woody Point, Newfoundland. There is a mix of postcards from Portugal, the Ideal Motel in Santa Monica, California (I won't get into too many details with that one. That's an epic novel in and of itself), and, most recently, a few postcards from the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit at the AGO. Only last week, my Uncle Clemente came by and gave me a prayer card for three soldiers, friends of his, who lost their lives in the Portuguese colonial wars. It all weaves together and a story is never far behind.
*We first met Anthony at a reading after Barnacle Love had been published to great acclaim, when he was working on Kicking the Sky. The place was jammed when he walked in. We waved him over because, well, we recognized Anthony De Sa. And he was carrying food. "I brought treats," he explained in a very unassuming way. He opened a box of cod fritters and another of perhaps a dozen natas -- custard tarts: "I didn't know so many people would come..."