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Island Profile: Annette Hinkle, telling the stories that matter

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Annette Hinkle outside the Reporter’s office last week.
CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Annette Hinkle outside the Reporter’s office last week.

In the Shelter Island Reporter, you won’t often find stories about the staff, even though they are some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet.

But Community News Editor Annette Hinkle’s story is too good not to be told.

Annette’s life was interesting before she came to the Reporter in 2016 after 20 years at the Sag Harbor Express, and it’s only gotten better. Just six months after a December fire destroyed the Sag Harbor Cinema, Annette has written a history of the beloved theater — “Sag Harbor: 100 Years of Film in the Village,” a 128-page book full of historical photographs, theater history and memories, with an introduction by Jay McInerney. And she did it in six weeks.

“I used to take improv classes at Second City,” Annette said. “It helped me think on my feet.”
Annette had a rough upbringing in the Rust Belt city of Dayton, Ohio, the last of five children, and so much younger than her siblings that by the time she was 11, they had all moved out of the house. “I went from being in a big family to an only child,” she said.

Her father sold restaurant equipment. Annette remembers going with him to call on customers, in commercial kitchens permeated with the mingled smells of bleach and grease, a sensory assault that haunted her later when as a teenager, she worked at a Wendy’s.

“The worst job I ever had,” Annette recalls. “I didn’t have much in the way of confidence, and there’s something about fast food — people think they can be evil.”

The polyester uniform and striped apron didn’t help her confidence either.

In high school in a Dayton suburb, she felt alienated from classmates she considered small-minded and ignorant. “My older sister had moved to New York and married a man who was African-American. Meanwhile, kids were coming to my school dressed as K.K.K. members. I knew I would leave there as soon as I could.”

Her father’s chronic health problems, including mental breakdowns, made it hard for him to make a living. While hospitalized with heart problems, he died on the last day of Annette’s senior year of high school.

When Annette graduated from high school, no one in her family had gone to college. But two weeks before he died, her father told her he wanted her to get a college degree. “It was out of the blue,” Annette said.

With her father’s dying wish in mind, and the Social Security benefit he left her in hand, she enrolled at Ohio University. In the early 1980s, the university had a strong presence of international students, and Annette made friends with people from Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Germany. “It was a real eye-opener,” she said.

She decided to study audio engineering and landed an internship with the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour in the fall of 1984. For three months, she lived in Manhattan in the apartment of a friend of a friend, working in a small, exciting newsroom in the middle of a fascinating election year that resulted in a second term for Ronald Reagan. She got to escort Henry Kissinger to the green room.

After graduation, she moved to Chicago where her typing skills got her a job typing commercial scripts at the Leo Burnett ad agency. After two years she transferred to Leo Burnett’s New York office and moved to Hoboken — close to Manhattan, which was her goal.

In New York, she worked in client-sponsored programming and commercial production for Leo Burnett, and soon met a graduate  of New York University’s film school named Adam Flax, who provided equipment for film shoots. They bought an apartment in Hoboken, then moved to the East End in 1995, when Annette began working at the Sag Harbor Express. In 1997, they bought a house in East Hampton and got married. Their daughter Sophie was born in 2001.

When Annette came to the Shelter Island Reporter last year, she said it reminded her of the Sag Harbor of 20 years ago, with a small-town vibe that has disappeared elsewhere.

The conflagration that consumed the Sag Harbor Cinema was the kind of shock that forces people to examine their values, and very quickly Sag Harbor’s arts community formed in solidarity, determined to bring the theater back in a way that made sense for the future.

The Sag Harbor Partnership had the idea to rebuild it as a nonprofit cinema arts center, with classrooms, café and cinema, and they’ve set about to raise the $13 million needed to achieve that vision.

It was in the context of that effort that publisher Pauline Neuwirth approached Annette to write a book about the Cinema for her firm, East End Press. “I was the ideal person to do this because I’d been at the Express so long I was able to tap into some of the historical details,” Annette said. “It takes time to foster contacts especially if you’re talking about a local story going back.”

After some research, she started writing the first week in April and by early May was done. The book grew beyond the story of a single theater, into a history of film in Sag Harbor, told through the handful of cinemas that operated there. The first copies of the coffee-table book came off the press in late June, in time for the July 16 benefit that will raise the money needed to purchase the theater.

“An insanely fast project,” said the exhausted, but happy author.

This won’t be Annette’s last book. She is already planning a history of Sag Harbor’s venerable American Hotel and is almost finished writing a book of Sag Harbor’s “true ghost stories.”
And someday she plans to collaborate with her husband, Adam, a dedicated fisherman, to write a book about fishing and small-town America, which sounds a little like Shelter Island.

Lightning Round

Favorite place on Shelter Island?  Sylvester Manor, it feels like I’m reincarnated there.

Favorite place not on Shelter Island?  Maui. You’ve got to love a place where you see rainbows every day.

Last time you were elated?  Pauline sent me pictures of the book on press and I felt like I was giving birth again.

What exasperates you?  People who put on their left turn signal and then turn right.

Favorite movie or book?  Brazil

Favorite food?  Lebanese stuffed grape leaves with lamb.

Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family?  Spalding Gray. He always had his eyes open. He was inspirational in my wanting to tell stories.

Most respected elected official?   Elizabeth Warren.