Anthony Winkler is one of Jamaica’s most gifted and successful writers. Two of his novels have been made into movies. His original screenplay, The Annihilation of Fish, has been made into a movie starring James Earl Jones, Lynn Redgrave and Margot Kidder. It’s the story of a retired old Jamaican named Fish who has no purpose in life since his retirement so he fantasizes that his remaining purpose is to wrestle a devil and throw him out of the house whenever he appears. Life gets complicated when he falls in love with his neighbor, Poinsettia, whom he persuades to become his referee.
His most famous work, a satirical novel entitled, The Lunatic was also made into a movie. Its main character is a crazy countryman named Aloysius who speaks to trees and animals. His life changes dramatically when he hooks up with a sex-crazed German tourist named Inga.
Winkler’s first novel is also his favorite. The Painted Canoe took him several years to write and over 10 years to get it published. After many rejections, Kingston Publishers finally published it in 1984. His other works include: The Duppy, Dog Wars, The Great Yacht Race, The Annihilation of Fish and other Stories, and Going Home to Teach which is an autobiographical account of his experiences during the turbulent 70’s at a school in the rural Jamaican town of Moneague.
Winkler was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He attended schools in Kingston and Montego Bay and left Jamaica when he was 21 to pursue a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English. A teacher in his 2nd form English class at Cornwall College, one Mr. Findlay, first noticed his talent for writing. The class had been asked to write a passage about being trapped. His vivid description about things that he had never actually seen amazed his teacher. Years later, working as a textbook salesman in California, he realized that he could improve on the writing in the books he was trying to sell. Instinctively, he wrote and submitted two chapters which earned him his first book advance of $1,000. He has been writing passionately ever since.
Because of his writing he has had the opportunity to meet some famous people. Gene Wilder has been known to call his house and he got to meet the likes of James Earl Jones, Ann Bancroft and Lynn Redgrave-people he would not ordinarily have met.
While he is famous for his Jamaican stories, Winkler actually makes his living writing college textbooks. He was officially on strike against the Hollywood studios the day I interviewed him at his suburban Atlanta home. He is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America and the Hollywood writers were several days into a strike. At one time, he was very active in the Jamaican community and he was elected president of the Atlanta Jamaica Association for two terms. He recalls coordinating hurricane Gilbert relief efforts and scholarship programs as well as bringing up plays from Jamaica.
He has fond memories of growing up as a boy in Jamaica during the 1940’s and 50’s. When he lived on Mountain View Avenue in Kingston, his best friend was Denny Repole, now a prominent architect in Jamaica. Each morning, as soon as they woke up either one would run next door to play with the other. “He and I used to play constantly, every day,” recalls Winkler. Strangely enough, they both came down with Parkinson’s disease about the same time. He wonders if “running up and down barefoot” back then they were exposed to something, since Parkinson’s has been linked to contaminants.
On the verge of receiving Social Security-his first check will arrive in time for Christmas-he confided that he is “getting all the attention now at the age of 65” that he never got at 35. He has somehow managed to lead “a pretty typical life” with a wife, a daughter and a son. His daughter is an Industrial and Occupational (I/O) psychologist and his son is an English teacher at a local high school.
Tony and his lovely wife, Cathy, were married 32 years ago on All Heroes in the small village of Colgate in St. Ann, Jamaica. Cathy travels with him to various appearances. This year they’ve already been to Jamaica (three times), New York, Miami and Antigua where he has either given readings or interacted with his ever widening reading audience—all the while with Cathy working in the background to make his schedule easier. “She’s my right hand and my left hand; I don’t know where I’d be without her,” explained Tony.
Winkler doesn’t subscribe to any overarching philosophy of life but he likes to be flexible and “tries to see the two or three sides to any story.” And he doesn’t have any particular methodology to writing either, advising that in writing one has to learn to simply “trust the darkness.”