Mr Al Creighton’s response in his letter captioned “The Guyana Prize judges elected not to give Mr Mc Watt two prizes” (07.10.05) to my queries arising from the widely published reports of the short-listed and winning entries of the Guyana Prize for Literature, 2006, confirms the perception of many readers that prizes are ‘shared out’ among friends and not necessarily awarded on the basis of merit.
The judges declared the two shortlists as follows:
Best Book of Fiction – Dabydeen’s Drums of my Flesh, Mc Watt’s Suspended Sentences and Shah’s A Silent Life
Best First Book of Fiction – Shah, McWatt and Clive Sankardayal’s The Brown Curtains.
On the evening of the Awards Ceremony, it was announced that Shah had won the Best First Book and that Mc Watt and Dabydeen had both won the Best Book of Fiction.
I asked in my letter of August 26 “How is it possible for a book that did not win in the Best First Book category to come back and win in the more prestigious Best Book of Fiction category?”
I also asked, “If prizes are awarded on the basis of merit, isn’t it an anomaly to share prizes?”
Mr Creighton chose not to answer this latter question.
He pointed out, however, that “the judges elected not to give Mr Mc Watt two prizes”, implying that Mc Watt won both prizes. So readers may conclude that Shah’s A Silent Life and Dabydeen’s Drums of my Flesh were merely a tokenistic sharing of the prizes.
If, as Mr Creighton claims, the judges found that McWatt’s Suspended Sentences is better than Shah’s A Silent Life, then McWatt should have been awarded both prizes-the Best First Book and the Best Book of Fiction. But, isn’t it rather strange that the Chief Judge, Prof Sandra Pouchet Paquet, did not mention this great literary feat of McWatt?
My gut instinct tells me (especially after reading Suspended Sentences) that the goodly gentleman is making excuses, perhaps an attempt at covering up this glaring anomaly. Yes, I did manage to borrow a copy of this book, so I too could gain some insight into its awesome profundity. I was appalled. It did seem, like the authentic writing of fifth-form school boys. Of course, this is only my opinion.
All, however, is not lost and I would urge readers to make the extra effort of buying/borrowing these prize winning books-both current and past-so that they can judge for themselves the merits and demerits of works such as Dabydeen’s Our Lady of Demerara, Fred d’Aguiar’s Bethany Bethany (books which shared the prize in 2004), Janice Shinbourne’s Timepiece, Roy Heath’s Shadow Bride, Denise Harris’s Web of Secrets and Harischandra Khemraj’s Cosmic Dance among others.
Mr Creighton’s prim and pompous reply to my questions: “It is not our policy to entertain discussions about the Judge’s decisions” is a sad and telling commentary on the state of Stabroek’s Arts Column (he has been its chief columnist for as long as the Stabroek has been in existence) and the state of the institution of which he is a long serving educator and administrator-the University of Guyana. Surely, Mr Editor, any teacher of the lowest rank at an elementary school would know that controversy, discussion and debate, especially in literary matters, are part of a normal classroom/ society and should be reflected in the letter pages of the so-called ‘free press.’
It is now more than 20 years since the Guyana Prize has been in place. Sadly, it has failed to become, among other things, a useful tool for stimulating healthy debate and critical thinking.
Bernadette I Persaud