A happy new year to all your readers.
I am writing in response to an enquiry by one of your journalists on Sunday.
The Caribbean Press recently completed its initial task of publishing 36 volumes on the history and culture of Guyana from the travelogue of Walter Ralegh to the novels of Edgar Mittelholzer and Wilson Harris to a selection of Guyana Prizewinning texts. This ‘Guyana Classics’ Series saw specially commissioned introductions to each title by scholars worldwide (eg Professor Trevor Burnard, Australia; Professor Eddie Baugh (UWI); Professor James Walvin (UK); Professor Mariam Pirbhai (Canada); Professor Peter Nazareth (USA)). Guyanese scholars included Professor Clem Seecharan, Dr Janette Bulkan, Sister Noel Menezes and myself. I am grateful to the two dozen academics whose contributions made the series possible, and to the many writers (Fred D’Aguiar, Mark McWatt, Maggie Harris, Elly Niland, Cyril Dabydeen, among others) who agreed for their work to be published. The collaboration was a massive effort, and I expect that the series will grow over the years since it can easily accommodate 100 titles. It was pleasing when a columnist in the Kaieteur News called the series “by far the most important literary event in our country’s history since Independence. It allows important works which would otherwise have been left to gather dust on the shelves of libraries and in private collections to become part of the local repository of literary history.”
The creation of the Guyana Prize, is, to my mind, of more importance, as is the post-independence publication of Kyk-Over-Al, and many other events, including Carifesta, but the Guyana Classics is certainly a recent addition to our national effort to promote literary culture. Before the Guyana Classics Series was completed, the press began to publish local Guyanese writers. A book of articles (many from Stabroek News) by Ian McDonald; Anna Benjamin’s book on the 1763 Slave rebellion; a poetry anthology (at the printers) featuring 22 local Guyanese writers, most of them never published before, and at least two who show serious talent and should be encouraged to produce full volumes. These will be launched publicly when I am next in Guyana, as well as a book by Cedric Costello, entitled Rasta Lyrics, an anthology of Guyanese folksongs, and an anthology of Guyanese short stories. An anthology of Guyanese plays is in the making. All these books were announced in advance, in July 2012, when some new titles from the Guyana Classics were launched at Umana Yana, with all the newspapers present as well as NCN. On that occasion, in July 2012, I announced that I would be publishing a novella by Ashley Anthony, which would be historic since it would be the first book written by a Guyanese child for Guyanese children. I was so taken by the literary quality of this young person’s writing, which I came across in 2011, that I accepted it for publication, early in 2012, subject to revision. It was wonderful to see a young Guyanese writer taking her work so seriously that she revised and polished the novella, over several months, and argued with me on many occasions as editor, before I deemed it worthy of publication in our 2013 list (a few advance copies were sent to her for Christmas). I am more than ever convinced of the dedication and talent of Guyanese children. And, boy, can they argue and scowl and swell their lips in defence of their literary work! Whether Miss Anthony’s father is a minister or a carpenter matters not; the Caribbean Press’ main criterion for publication is that a work must show literary merit, if not excellence. Many months after the novella was accepted for publication, Dr Anthony kindly offered to donate (and he did) to the press the printing and shipping costs of his daughter’s book; this was totally unnecessary, but, being a man of honour and integrity, he realized that the Guyanese political commentators would snarl at him, and accuse him of profiteering. As the public should know by now, given that there have been six public and media launches of the Caribbean Press books since 2010, all copies of all titles are donated free of charge to school and public libraries, except a handful given to the writer and a handful to Austin’s bookshop. At each of these public and media launches we repeat that the Caribbean Press is a peer-reviewed press, and primarily concerned with literary quality.
I hope the above goes some way towards correcting the lies, recently aired, no doubt inadvertently, in your newspaper.
Finally, now that the press is established with over 40 titles, and has a new website where many of its titles (those not in copyright) can be downloaded for free, I’d very ( let me repeat, very) happily give up my honorary position of Editor to any individual or group who wants the work. Know, however, that all the editorial work is done on a voluntary basis. I am getting old, and need to concentrate on my own writing. Do contact me on email@example.com
Professor David Dabydeen