A third of the funding for the Guyana Prize Caribbean Award could have gone to funding writing workshops for emerging writers

Dear Editor,

It comes down to this.  The last Guyana Prize for Literature was for 2006, an election year; for five years after that, there was a vacillation between dithering excuses and deafening silence from the Management Committee. Now, come another election year, the Prize has been resuscitated without an official explanation of its absence.

Now, the most detailed information we have coming out of the Prize Committee concerns the new-fangled appendage of the Prize, the Guyana Prize Caribbean Award.  We have the full publication of the shortlist as well as the identities of the judges.

Let me set some perspective here: with the establishment of the Guyana Prize Caribbean Award, some US$15,000 of taxpayers’ money will be given out to non-citizens – and this does not account for the hotel and airfare expenses that the committee is obligated to cover for the winners and whichever members of the jury choose or are obliged to attend the event; and all this even as the committee continues to fail to institute any developmental mechanism for local writing.

It’s indecent, it’s inexcusable, it’s shameful.  A third of the expenditure of the Guyana Prize Caribbean Award could have funded several writing workshops for emerging writers in Guyana, as has been perennially recommended by successive Prize juries.

A further indecency is that the while the shortlist for the Guyana Prize Caribbean Award has been announced, we have no such courtesy with regard to the Guyana Prize proper shortlist.
There has, understandably, been no fanfare, no comprehensive announcement to the press, no lead up articles or interviews.  What we have had instead is as much secrecy and hidden theatre and blatant post hoc photo op press releasing as one of George Bush’s visits to post-invasion Iraq.

The Prize Committee would do well to consider that the initial announcement of the Prize, engineered by GINA and first published in the Guyana Chronicle, does nothing to negate the perception, indeed the fact, that management of the Prize is governed by political expediency.

Anyone currently associated with the Guyana Prize for Literature cannot seriously claim any sort of professional credibility or pride in light of this fiasco.  Forget a public resignation from the Management Committee – at this point in time, a resignation from whatever public posts they occupy, and through which they have been appointed to the committee, is in order.  Every single member of the Prize Committee has made themselves party to the greatest fraud ever committed in relation to Caribbean literature.

That said, let me make this clear – I do not for one minute believe that a commitment to literary development is absolutely absent within those who have surrendered their personal dignity in the execution of this con.

However, there is always some tipping point, some notch in the scale of moral relativity, past which the logic of working from within the belly of the Beast becomes as untenable as it is ineffectual, and where a morally bankrupt self-interest and self-preservation takes over.

I have seen otherwise good, bright people – those who have not left or chosen to go into the exile of silence – genuflect before the inept and the ignorant and the unashamedly compromised, all their sense of dignity stripped, all the fire in their belly quenched, all personal pride subsumed to this corrupting cancer that continues to metastasize within our body collective.

These are the same people who will be ordered to be frontline fodder as this juggernaut of ineptitude rolls on forward, aiming to crush all those who would oppose it while herding all else into this abyss of intellectual nullification that is the only natural destination of its path.

Whether it’s the de facto cancellation of the show ‘Merundoi’ by the government controlled NCN or the convoluted coup that has been enacted with regard to the Guyana Prize for Literature, our freedom of literary expression is under attack, the only difference being that what once was a war of attrition has now become a full scale assault.  It will stop now.

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson

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