Michael Anthony Biography
Michael Anthony comments:
Nationality: Trinidadian. Born: Mayaro, 1932. Education: Mayaro Roman Catholic School; Junior Technical College, San Fernando, Trinidad. 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.
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.
Glimpses of Trinidad and Tobago, with a Glance at the West Indies. Port-of-Spain, Columbus, 1974.
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.
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.
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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.
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