Ruel Johnson’s letters in Stabroek News on January 5 (‘Is the publication of Ashley Anthony’s work by the Caribbean Press completely kosher?’) and January 9 (‘Clear guidelines and criteria for publication with the Caribbean Press need to be established’) illustrate the nature of Guyana’s cultural circles. The main topic is the alleged misuse of what should be a publicly advocated cultural industries institution, the Caribbean Press. This was funded by the people’s money, supposedly at the level of some US$100,000 ($20M) a year, and was an initiative of former President Jagdeo, initially with the intention of reprinting out-of-print Guyanese literature. That was as much as most of us knew. I now understand that it had a greater purpose: to interact with the Caribbean writing community, including the Guyanese writing community, within the parameters of its title, ‘The Caribbean Press.’
The observation is that Dr Frank Anthony, the Minister of Sport and Culture used this facility to publish his daughter’s first novel. This would not have been questionable if the fact was known that the Caribbean Press was not only developed to publish books from the earliest period of Guyanese literature, but had an extended life intended to envelop the community of writers and not a particular known group with a variety of loyalties external to the development of local talent as a whole. One such loyalty is represented by a small but influential grouping that proposes to scrutinize and impose self censorship to conform to a culture which reflects a particular line. I have experienced firsthand how that grouping works and have long defied it.
There’s no need to attempt to change such people, but they must not be allowed to continue to employ their subtle schemes of marginalization,
No writer I spoke to after Ruel’s letter knew that the Caribbean Press existed to engage contemporary writers; I didn’t know either. All creative people must take Ruel’s letter seriously and proceed to address the construct of what was allegedly done by the Minister; he is new to the cultural scene, but the system has to be addressed and finally exorcised.
At the conclusion of the Visual Arts exhibition I arrived in time to approach some of the personalities mentioned by Ruel; I of course knew they would be there. Whoever I approached denied that the designations Ruel mentioned were true, but two important persons did agree to participate in any writers’ forum in the interest of unravelling the nature of the Caribbean Press. We have to know this entity in a personal way, so that its blessings can be spread among the nations and not be the tool of some self serving group.