Former judges should not be allowed to enter for the Guyana Prize for Literature

Dear Editor,

The recent Guyana Prize for Literature Awards combined with the Caribbean Litera-ture Award were a very interesting phenomenon that attracted writers living and writing in Guyana, writers from the wider Caribbean and Guyanese writers living and writing overseas. As a former entrant of the Guyana Prize (1996-2006) I observed it has many flaws in the area of judging entries.

The two recent top winners of the Guyana Prize 2010, Prof Mark McWatt and Prof David Dabydeen  emerged as top winners of the Prize. McWatt won the prize in various categories and Dabydeen has now won the prize four times. I see this same old society of friends emerging as winners of the Prize again and again.

In 1992, Dr David Dabydeen won the Guyana Prize in the fiction category with his novel The Intended. In 1996, he was short listed with his novel The Counting House. In 1998, Dr Dabydeen became a judge for the Guyana Prize for Literature. In the year 2000 he entered again for the Guyana Prize and won it with Harlot’s Progress. In 2004 he won the award again with his novel Our Lady of Demerara. In 2010 he won the award again with his novel Molly and the Muslim Stick; that’s four times he has won the Guyana Prize, and he has also been a judge.

In 1992, Prof Mark McWatt was the Chairman of the jury for the Guyana Prize for Literature. In 1994, Prof McWatt became an entrant for the Guyana Prize and won the Award with his collection of poems, The Language of Eldorado. In 2006 he entered again for the Prize and won it with his novel Suspended Sentences, and just recently he won the Award again.

In my opinion, both of these former judges for the Guyana Prize entries should have been disqualified. In my research about other literary awards like the Booker Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Impac Dublin Literary Award, the Poetry Society National Poetry Competition, etc, I note in the rules that former judges for the award cannot enter for the award. Even winners for some of these awards cannot apply for the awards again until a period of 5 years has elapsed, etc.

I have studied the Impac Dublin Literary Award 2011 brochure under the section dealing with rules and conditions, which I quote here:

“16: A book shall not be eligible for entry for the Award if the author or translator thereof is any of the following:

1. a member of the Board of Management
2. a member of the staff of the Dublin City Council
3. an officer or employee of or consultant to any IMPAC entity
4. an officer or employee of IMPAC Ltd.
5. a member of the judging panel
6. a parent, a spouse or child of any of the foregoing.“

I note here that this award has 21 rules and conditions of entry and it is clear that “no member of the judging panel or member of the board of management’‘ can enter for the award. This is unlike our Guyana Prize which has no rules and regulations disqualifying a past judge or member of the management committee from enter for the Award. Since the Guyana Prize has been extended to include a Caribbean Prize for Literature, Caribbean writers as well as writers living and writing in Guyana should be aware of the fact that the Guyana Prize and this new Caribbean Prize represent an incestuous society of friends winning the Prize all the time. Writers living and working in Guyana will never have the opportunity to ever compete.

The Poetry Society of London National Poetry Contest states clearly in their rules:

‘’No employee or member of the general council  of the poetry society is eligible to enter the National Poetry Competition.‘’

Why is it that the Guyana Prize brochure doesn’t have these rules? Why is it that distinguished writers‘ works are not judged in a separate category from typed manuscripts? Why is it that there are not three different age groups so that writers will have fair competition? Why is it that Mr Al Creighton remains the secretary and administrator of the prize?

If the Guyana Prize for Literature will ever progress in the future it will need a new administrative body of people independent from the University of Guyana. This is a flawed Prize that can only help emerging Guyanese writers if these past distinguished judges and writers are removed completely from entering the Prize since they are not living and working in Guyana. Some of the books that have won the Guyana Prize are very immoral in nature, and loaded with sexual overtones and ‘cuss‘ words. Again, in the brochure there are no rules to exclude works of immorality. It’s not surprising that literature has now become a dead subject in schools; this is all because of wicked writers who will interpolate too much vulgarity into their books and call it great literature. It’s about time our government addressed the issues I have raised here about the Prize, and writers living here should speak out against this flawed and hypocritical Prize boldly.

Yours faithfully,
Rev Gideon Cecil

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