Anthony, Michael 1930(?)–
Michael Anthony 1930(?)–
Michael Anthony writes novels that portray West Indian life in his native Trinidad and Tobago. He is widely read in the Caribbean, but virtually unknown in the larger English-language literary world. His fiction often delves into Trinidadian history and casts a critical eye upon its British colonial legacy. James Brockway observed in Books and Bookmen that Anthony has “an evocative power…drawn not merely from observation, but from observing the things that matter, and conveying them in exactly the right words.”
Anthony was born in the early 1930s in the seaside village of Mayaro in Trinidad, the larger of the nation’s two islands that lie off the coast of Venezuela. He was the son of a drain-digger, and was sent to the local Roman Catholic school. He ventured to the larger city of San Fernando to attend a technical college, and eventually took a job at a foundry. Dissatisfied, he quit in 1954 and immigrated to England. In 1958 he married Yvette Francesca Anthony and began a family.
In England, Anthony worked in factories as well, but also began writing. His first novel, The Games Were Coming, appeared in 1963. Its protagonist is dedicated cyclist Leon Seal, who is training for the Southern Games, a forerunner of the Commonwealth Games. In his zeal, Leon ignores his girlfriend and is not even interested in participating in Trinidad’s heady Carnival festivities. The novel asserts the need for balance between Leon’s disciplined restraint and the fevered abandon of the Carnival. Leon’s mischievous brother, Dolphus, serves as counterpart to the single-mindedness of both Leon’s rigidity and the Carnival’s joyful, chaotic energy. Dolphus, who is equally drawn to the Games and Carnival, reflects a balance between the two forces of restraint and abandon.
From 1964 to 1968 Anthony worked at the Reuters News Agency in London. He wrote and published two other novels during this period. The Year in San Fernando, which appeared in 1965, centers upon a twelve-year-old boy, Francis, whose mother has been incapacitated by a lifetime of backbreaking work. In order to earn money for school, Francis must spend a year as servant and companion to Mrs. Chandles, an embittered elderly woman. The changing tropical seasons set the tone and pacing of the novel. Green Days by the River, published in 1967, is another coming of age story. This work, set in the countryside around Anthony’s native Mayaro, features the boy Shellie, who befriends an Indian farmer, Mr. Gidharee. Racial tensions and prejudices in Trinidadian culture play a central role in the plot.
During Anthony’s time in London, Trinidad and Tobago was granted its independence from Britain. In the late 1960s, he lived in Brazil as a member of Trinidad and Tobago’s diplomatic corps there. He returned to his native land in 1970, and worked as an editor of an oil-company publication—Trinidad is one of the West Indies’ most industrialized nations—and as a researcher for the Ministry of Culture in the capital city of Port-of-Spain. He broadcast historical radio programs for more than a dozen years, and began writing nonfiction works on the history and culture of Trinidad and Tobago as well. He also wrote two volumes of short stories,
Born February 10, 1930 (some sources say 1932), in Mayaro, Trinidad and Tobago; son of Nathaniel (a drain-digger) and Eva (Jones) Anthony; married Yvette Francesca, February 8, 1958; children: two sons, two daughters. Education: Attended Mayaro Roman Catholic School and Junior Technical College, San Fernando, Trinidad.
Career: Author, Heid a number of factory jobs after immigrating to England; Reuters News Agency, London, England, sub-editor, 1964-68; lived in Brazil as a member of Trinidadian diplomatic corps, 1968-70; Texas Star, Texaco Trinidad, Pointe-a-Pierre, Trinidad and Tobago, assistant editor, 1970-72; Ministry of Culture, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, researcher, 1972-88; broadcast historical radio programs, 1975-89; University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, teacher of creative writing, 1992.
Addresses: Home —99 Long Circular Rd., St. James, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
Cricket in the Road and Sandra Street, both published in 1973, but took some time off writing fiction after the poor critical reception of his 1976 novel, Streets of Conflict, about a Trinidadian in Rio de Janeiro.
In All That Glitters, Anthony’s 1981 novel, he returns once again to the familiar territory of Mayaro. As the work opens, Horace Lumpers’s sophisticated Aunty Roomeen has come back to her hometown, and sets in motion a chain of occurrences that force the young Horace to discover his talent as a writer. As Horace writes about the events unfolding around him, the novel develops into an exploration of the art of writing.
Around this time Anthony began writing exclusively for a younger audience, creating memorable characters who struggle with the conflicts caused by societal restrictions. In 1992, Anthony spent time at the University of Richmond in Virginia as a teacher of creative writing.
His 1996 novel, In the Heat of the Day, marked a return to the genre after an absence of several years. The work is set in Port-of-Spain in 1903, when British authorities decided that the impoverished Trinidadians were wasting water and announced a plan to install meters in neighborhoods. Many black households lived in dire poverty, and it was feared that they would no longer be able to afford to bathe or do laundry. The larger issue in the novel is British domination, and the white colonial officials are depicted in an unflattering light. Formal debates are scheduled, but black Trinidadian protests escalate, as does the force of the British authorities’ repressive measures.
Anthony has earned a reputation for writing simple, yet sensitive novels depicting the experiences and events of his youth in Trinidad and Tobago. He has written about Trinidadian history, particularly about events set in the colonial landscape of British rule. Anthony has dedicated himself to faithfully portraying his country’s history and way of life.
The Year in San Fernando (novel), Deutsch, 1965, published with introduction by Paul Edwards and Ramchand, Heinemann, 1970.
Green Days by the River (novel), Houghton, 1967.
Cricket in the Road, and Other Stories, Heinemann Educational, 1973.
Sandra Street, and Other Stories, Heinemann Educational, 1973.
King of the Masquerade, Thomas Nelson, 1974.
Folk Tales and Fantasies (short stories), illustrated by Pat Chu Foon, Columbus, 1976.
Streets of Conflict (novel), Deutsch, 1976.
All That Glitters (novel), Deutsch, 1981.
Bright Road to El Dorado (novel), Nelson Caribbean, 1982.
A Better and Brighter Day, Circle Press, 1987.
The Chieftain’s Carnival and Other Stories, Longman, 1993.
In the Heat of the Day, Heinemann, 1996.
Americas, November/December 1997, p. 63.
Books and Bookmen, February 1974.
World Literature Today, Spring 1997, p. 445.
Nationality: Trinidadian. Born: Mayaro, 10 February 1932. Education: Mayaro Roman Catholic School; Junior Technical College, San Fernando, Trinidad. Family: Married Yvette Francesca in 1958; two sons and two daughters. Career: Lived in England, 1954-68; journalist, Reuters news agency, London, 1964-68; lived in Brazil, 1968-70; assistant editor, Texaco Trinidad, Pointe-à-Pierre, 1970-72. Since 1972 researcher, National Cultural Council (now Ministry of Culture), Port-of-Spain; broadcast historical radio programs, 1975-1989; University of Richmond, VA, teacher of creative writing, 1992. Address: 99 Long Circular Road, St. James, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
The Games Were Coming. London, Deutsch, 1963; Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1968.
The Year in San Fernando. London, Deutsch, 1965; Portsmouth, NewHampshire, Heinemann, 1996.
Green Days by the River. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Deutsch, 1967.
Streets of Conflict. London, Deutsch, 1976.
All That Glitters. London, Deutsch, 1981.
Bright Road to El Dorado. Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, Nelson, 1982.
The Becket Factor. London, Collins, 1990.
In the Heat of the Day. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, HeinemannEducational Publishers, 1996.
Sandra Street and Other Stories. London, Heinemann, 1973.
Cricket in the Road and Other Stories. London, Deutsch, 1973.
Folk Tales and Fantasies. Port-of-Spain, Columbus, 1976.
The Chieftain's Carnival and Other Stories. London, Longman, 1993.
Profile Trinidad: A Historical Survey from the Discovery to 1900. London, Macmillan, 1975.
The Making of Port-of-Spain 1757-1939. Port-of-Spain, Key Caribbean, 1978.
First in Trinidad. Port-of-Spain, Circle Press, 1985.
Heroes of the People of Trinidad and Tobago. Port-of-Spain, CirclePress, 1986.
The History of Aviation in Trinidad and Tobago 1913-1962. Port-of-Spain, Paria, 1987.
A Better and Brighter Day. Port-of-Spain, Circle Press, 1987.
Towns and Villages of Trinidad and Tobago. Port-of-Spain, CirclePress, 1988.
Parade of the Carnivals of Trinidad 1839-1989. Port-of-Spain, Circle Press, 1989.
The Golden Quest: The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus. London, Macmillan Caribbean, 1992.
Historical Dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago. Lanham, Maryland, Scarecrow Press, 1997.
Editor, with Andrew Carr, David Frost Introduces Trinidad and Tobago. London, Deutsch, 1975.*
In London Magazine, April 1967; "Novels of Childhood" in The West Indian Novel and Its Background by Kenneth Ramchand, London, Faber, and New York, Barnes and Noble, 1970; Green Days by the River by Linda Flynn and Sally West, Oxford, Heinemann Educational, 1989.
Michael Anthony comments:
I see myself principally as a storyteller. In other words, I am not aware that I have any message. I think both the past life and the fascination of landscape play a most important part in my work.
My infancy has been very important in my literary development and so far almost everything I have written—certainly my novels—are very autobiographical.
It is strange that I have never had the desire to write about England, although I spent 14 years there. To some people, judging from my writing alone, I have never been out of Trinidad. And this is true in some sort of way.
I feel a certain deep attachment to Trinidad and I want to write about it in such a way that I will give a faithful picture of life here. But when I am writing a story I am not aware that I want to do anything else but tell the story.* * *
Michael Anthony's most successful novels are set in southern Trinidad, and deal with the experiences of childhood and youth. Each is simple in structure. When Anthony has stepped outside that framework, as he does in Streets of Conflict, and attempted explicit social comment, the results have not always been successful.
His first novel, The Games Were Coming, subtly explores the need for a balance between restraint and joyful abandon. In a society where order has been imposed by force, and the idea of celebration therefore takes on political undertones, these are important issues. The story contrasts the cycling championships, for which the novel's hero, Leon, is training with self-denying discipline, and the approach of carnival, which is associated with "fever," "chaos," and "re-lease." Leon becomes so obsessed by the need for restraint that he neglects his girlfriend, Sylvia, and nearly loses her. She in turn suffers for failing to know herself. She prides herself on being cool, controlled, and pure, but is embarrassed by indelicate thoughts that spring unbidden to her mind. She disapproves of carnival, but is willing to "jump-on" at night when no one will see. She ignores these promptings of sexual energy, and as a result is swept away by her feelings—and by Leon's neglect—into the arms of her calculating middle-aged employer. Anthony suggests a resolution of these forces, first in the character of Leon's younger brother Dolphus, who is attracted equally to the games and to carnival, and second by a subtle pattern of imagery that hints at the complementary quality of these events. Thus the "madness and wildness" of jouvert morning is shown as the energy disciplined into the "richness and splendor" of Grand Carnival.
The Year in San Fernando is also much more than a sensitive novel about growing up. Although Anthony scrupulously adhered to the unfolding perceptions of 12-year-old Francis, from puzzled naiveté towards the growth of sympathetic understanding, what he created in the novel is a richly textured and moving portrayal of the growth and disappearance of what is human. Set against the passage of the seasons is Francis's relationship with Mrs. Chandles, the old woman for whom he is brought as a companion from his impoverished village home in return for his board and schooling. Initially, she is all dominant will, a self-contained, bitter old lady who treats Francis as a virtual slave. When the year begins, he is cowed and passive, scarcely more than a bundle of sensations. As the year passes, however, he observes how Mrs. Chandles's spirit and flesh wilt in the drought of crop-season, and comes to understand the reasons for her ill-temper. At the same time, Francis's self is growing powerfully as he begins to acknowledge his feelings, both positive and negative. There is a brief season of rain when Mrs. Chandles is released from her pain and the two meet as open and giving personalities. But then as Francis continues his growth to personhood, the personality of Mrs. Chandles disintegrates, and she begins to die. There is more for Francis to learn than his part in the cycle of life and death, and this is contained in a puzzling comment Mrs. Chandles makes. Throughout the dry season he has painstakingly tended her shriveling flowers, and oiled and massaged her protesting limbs. She comments on his "willing mind" and tells him that she "connected willingness of mind with sacredness." It is through this "sacredness" that Francis redeems his year in San Fernando from time.
None of Anthony's other novels quite achieves the same degree of understated but unflawed art. Green Days by the River evokes another passage from adolescent freedom to adult responsibility in the countryside around Mayaro. Despite the beauty of its prose, the novel seems to escape from Anthony's control. The central relationship is Shellie, a youth, and Mr. Gidharee, an Indian farmer who lures him into marriage with his daughter. Here the meeting is complicated by its Trinidadian ethnic resonances. In portraying Gidharee as a creolized Jekyll who charms Shellie into his confidence, and an Indian Hyde who sets his dogs to savage him as a warning of what will happen if he fails to marry his daughter, Anthony unavoidably appears to be making a veiled statement about ethnic relations. Two kinds of irony tangle. One is the dramatic irony that Shellie fails to see the twig being limed to catch him, the other is the irony of Shellie's racial innocence when so much of Gidharee's behavior adds up to a Creole stereotype of the Indian as an economic threat. The second irony leads to inconsistencies in the portrayal of Shellie, who is bright and sensitive in all respects except in his dealings with Gidharee, where he appears spineless and impercipient. It is hard to know in a somewhat evasive novel quite what Anthony intended.
Two attempts to deal with broader social issues have met with limited success: Streets of Conflict, was inconsistent, and the plot of In the Heat of the Day seemed weighted by the heavy message Anthony intended for it to carry. All That Glitters, by contrast, found Anthony in territory more suited to his abilities. The story centers around the growing awareness of young Horace Lumpers regarding the complications of the adult world around him, and specifically the jealousies and deceptions provoked by the return of his sophisticated Aunty Roomeen to the village of Mayaro. In a more intense way than in any earlier novel, Anthony focused on a child's attempt to discern whether people were being sincere or false. Words such as trickster, genuine, hypocrite, acting, and feigned serve as leitmotifs in the text, and Horace has to learn that being adult means wearing different faces. This play on truth and falsity is linked through the novel's two complementary mottoes ("Gold Is Where You Find It" and "All That Glitters") to Anthony's most conscious exploration of the nature of his art. The distinction is caught in the contrast between Horace's joy in discovering through writing what he thinks and feels—when he writes about the golden day with the fishermen or the sordid saga of the stolen golden chain—and the way that the adult clichés used by his teacher Myra tend to embalm experience. Nevertheless, for all her circumlocutions, she recognizes the child's magical directness, and it is her advice, "Make it colorful and vivid—and true," which both Horace and Michael Anthony follow.
ANTHONY, Michael. Trinidadian, b. 1932. Genres: Novels, Novellas/Short stories, History, Travel/Exploration. Career: Researcher, Ministry of Culture, 1972-88; Journalist, Reuters News Agency, London, 1964-68; Assistant Ed., Texaco Trinidad, 1970-72. Publications: The Games Were Coming (novel), 1963; The Year in San Fernando (novel), 1965; Green Days by the River (novel), 1967; Cricket in the Road (short stories), 1973; Sandra Street and Other Stories, 1973; Glimpses of Trinidad and Tobago, 1974; (ed. with A. Carr) David Frost Introduces Trinidad and Tobago, 1975; Profile Trinidad, 1975; Streets of Conflict (novel), 1976; Folk Tales and Fantasies (short stories), 1976; The Making of Port of Spain 1757-1939, 1978; All That Glitters (novel), 1982; Bright Road to El Dorado (novel), 1981; Port of Spain in a World at War, 1984; First in Trinidad, 1985; Heroes of the People of Trinidad and Tobago, 1986; A Better and Brighter Day, 1987; Towns and Villages of Trinidad and Tobago, 1988; Parade of the Carnivals of Trinidad, 1839-1989, 1989; The Golden Quest-The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbia (history), 1992; The Chieftain's Carnival (short stories), 1993; In the Heat of the Day, 1996; Historical Dictionary of Trinadad & Tobego, 1997; Green Days by the River, 2000. Address: 99 Long Circular Rd, St. James, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.