Anthony (Tony) McNeill was born in Kingston, Jamaica, the son of an elected member of the Legislative Council. He worked for a time in the USA before returning to Jamaica in 1975. His talent for poetry was unquestioned and huge.
Perhaps of all Caribbean poets, in his search for a contemporary voice and forms, McNeill displays the greatest connection to American poetry, to African American poets such as Sonia Sanchez, but also EE Cummings, W.S. Merwin, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams - and Emily Dickinson (McNeill has a penchant for both very long verse lines shading into prose poetry, and very short, gnomic lines).
In the years before his early death in 1996, he produced a final collection, Chinese Lanterns from the Blue Child (Peepal Tree, 1998) which included both recent poems and a few from the 1980s period. This collection won the 1995 Jamaican National Literary Award. It contains poems of unbearable poigniancy and beauty, poems which arrive at a moment of peace and lucidity, but also the knowledge that his life is almost over.
From Kamau Brathwaite to Edward Baugh and most recently, Kwame Dawes, other Caribbean poets at least have been in no doubt of McNeill's status as a major Caribbean poet. There is undoubtedly much unpublished work which cries out for recovery (two poem novellas, he told Daryl Dance).
An interview with Anthony McNeill is included in New World Adams: Conversations with Contemporary West Indian Writers, Peepal Tree, 1992, 2002.