Last reviewed: June 2017
Caribbean author of novels, short stories, and nonfiction.
February 10, 1930
Mayaro, Trinidad and Tobago
Michael Anthony was born in 1930 in a remote, rural area of southern Trinidad called Mayaro. Later, he went to school in the second largest town in Trinidad, San Fernando, before working in an iron foundry at Pointe à Pierre. In the 1950s, Great Britain called on members of its former colonies to provide cheap labor in the mother country, and Anthony arrived there on December 26, 1954. He worked in factories and on the railways before joining Reuters, the international news service. In 1959, Anthony married; he and his wife Yvette had four children: Jennifer, Keith, Carlos, and Sandra.
In the late 1950s, Anthony began publishing stories in the literary magazine BIM, a West Indian publication produced in Barbados. His first novel, The Games Were Coming, was published in 1963, but it was the second, The Year in San Fernando, that has received the most critical attention. Upon its publication in 1965, it had a cool reception from Caribbean critics. There were two primary reasons for this initial criticism. First, in a society in which education, autonomy, and a sense of cultural history are lacking, it was felt that those who produce art should protest and clearly demonstrate the need to fill these gaps. Second, as the novel is written with such apparent ingenuousness and charm, early critics failed to note the subtle intricacies of its construction. These two novels are positive in that they honor the culture of Trinidad and the high level of community involvement of its inhabitants.
The Year in San Fernando tells the story of one year in a young boy’s life, when he leaves his tiny village to go to the city. The author himself spent such a year from 1943 to 1944, when, at the age of twelve, he stayed in San Fernando. The novel is written entirely in the first-person voice of the young boy, with absolutely no intrusion of the adult authorial voice. The reader experiences the year as the child does, impressions changing as new information accumulates. Anthony enables the reader to experience the boy’s fear, his growing sense of pride at being able to function in “the big city,” and the development of his relationship with the people around him. The novel is tightly constructed, taking place in one year, in one house, and with a fixed group of characters. The author draws no large conclusions, nor does he attempt to show the change from childhood to maturity that is the staple of the Bildungsroman. Instead, he gives voice to a usually unheard member of society, with extremely sensitive compassion. It is his ability to allow normally silent characters to speak which is the most prominent feature of Anthony’s work.
Each of Anthony’s books can be read and enjoyed by young adults, who can readily identify with the youthful narrators and understand the clear prose. The King of the Masquerade, for example, is a slim volume aimed at the young reader. The novella describes a young boy’s secret participation in the annual Carnival in Trinidad, an event scorned by his professional parents. The work demonstrates the artistic and community value of this enormous event, as well as the essentially Trinidadian nature of the spectacle, and mocks the snobbery of people who divorce themselves from their own culture.
Anthony left England in 1968, never having felt the sense of confusion experienced by many writers in exile. In 1970, after having spent two years in Brazil (his favorite country), where he set the novel Streets of Conflict, Anthony became an official of the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture in Trinidad, a post that he held until 1988. After retiring, Anthony was free to spend his time writing a historical dictionary of Trinidad and Tobago, teaching at the University of Richmond, Virginia, and finishing a book on Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the new world, The Golden Quest. In 2001, he published High Tide of Intrigue, another perceptive novel about a boy on the edge of adult responsibilities. A thriller set in Trinidad, it draws attention to the role of this region in the international drug trade.