Caribbean Press to shift its focus to resident Guyanese writers

The Caribbean Press is expected to shift its focus to resident Guyanese writers since the publication of the Guyana Classics is near completion with only a few more titles to be added. It is also envisaged that a local Board of Advisors will be established to oversee the management of the publishing house.

A government source, who is knowledgeable about the Press, conceded that there should be public accountability of its finances and the “actual books produced,” and said that an advisory board which would have oversight of its operations would likely be put in place.

There have been several calls for public accountability, not just in relation to the finances, but also where the selection process for the publication of books is concerned.

Public debate on the Press began recently after local writer Ruel Johnson raised the question of why it had published a book by Ashley Anthony, the thirteen-year-old daughter of Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr Frank Anthony, and asked what criteria were used to decide on the publication of the book and who had made the decision. It was later revealed that the minister had paid the publishing and shipping costs for the publication while executive editor of the Press Dr David Dabydeen later said that he was so taken by the literary quality of the girl’s work that he suggested it should be published. Sunday Stabroek was unable to speak to Dr Dabydeen.

Further fuel was added to the public debate when Dabydeen in a letter to this newspaper criticized local writers as producing mostly “doggerel and puppyrel.”

In an earlier interview with this newspaper, the executive editor had indicated that he planned to take a back seat and there was a need for human resources to carry on the work of the Press, otherwise it might have to close its doors. Where this was concerned the source indicated that three Guyanese have since made contact and offered to join the Press, and these offers would be explored.

Explaining how the system works when it comes to the publication of books, the source said that after books are selected by the Press a list is submitted to Cabinet and a sum of money asked for. The source dismissed the suggestion that US$80,000 had been allocated to the Press since this “means nothing” as “Cabinet can decide not to spend a penny and put the money back into the bank.”

When Dr Dabydeen had been asked about the auditing of the funds of the Press in the earlier interview he had responded that after consulting with experts, he sends the Ministry of Culture a list of books the Press wants to publish along with the cost of publication.

“They either pay or don’t pay. If they pay, fine; I get the money and pay proofreaders, printers, etc, and get the books done and shipped. I am a contractor, like Courtney Benn or BK, except in books, not concrete!”

Meantime, according to a document on the Caribbean Press seen by this newspaper any resident of Guyana, irrespective of age, can submit collections of poetry, novels, collections of short stories, plays, lyrics, works of an experimental nature, or non-fiction for the consideration of the Press.

“The sole criterion for publication will be the quality of the work submitted, which will be determined by at least two of the Editors of the Press, and, if necessary, by a third, independent reader with literary or scholarly qualifications or experience.”

In a previous interview, Professor Dabydeen had said that he made the editorial decisions after consulting with a few experts adding that “…as Professor of Lit and multiple winner of global literary prizes I am fairly qualified to assess literary merit.”

He had said that anyone can send him manuscripts for consideration regardless of their age and he does the initial assessing and ten minutes into this process one could normally tell “what is rubbish.”

According to a document titled ‘Caribbean Press’ seen by this newspaper, Guyanese can submit their work via email to: Caribbeanpress@gmail.com while those with no internet access can submit their work in hard copy in either typed or handwritten form to the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport in Main Street.

Upon submission of the work, two editors will review it within six weeks, and if necessary send it to be reviewed by a third, independent reader. Within three months writers would be told about the suitability of their work for publication, and of the necessity of any revisions. If a work is deemed suitable for publication, the editors will ensure that the text is properly copy-edited, and will liaise with the writers on matters relating to front cover design and pagination.

On the other hand if a work is deemed unsuitable for publication, the writer can do further work and re-submit it, while a report on why it was rejected and what steps could be taken to improve it, would be sent to the author.

Where a book is published, the editors will submit review copies to newspapers and journals and an agreed number of free copies to the author and his associates.
Unlike Ashley Anthony, whose father paid for her work to be published, the document made it clear that all payments for printing and distribution would be the responsibility of the Press.

“The Press will not publish work on the basis of payment but on the basis of quality, so the writer is under no obligation to finance his/her work, though he/she may wish to contribute, or help the Press to organise his/her book launch, bookshop signing, media interviews, and other promotional activities which will benefit the work. The Press would be happy to discuss with relevant parties the issue of publication subsidies from corporate bodies, should such a need arise,” the document said.

The document listed the Press’s goals and objectives as being able to provide the public with books on the history and culture of Guyana and the Caribbean; and to provide a platform for encouraging, publishing and promoting the literary and scholarly works of residents of Guyana and the Caribbean. In its initial phases, there will be exclusive focus on Guyana, its culture, its history and its writers.

The idea of the Caribbean Press was put forward by Professor Dabydeen during Carifesta X held in Guyana, which former president Bharrat Jagdeo then followed through on, by making available US$10,000 for its launch.

The Caribbean Press has been acclaimed for the publication of its 60 titles to date, most in the Guyana Classics series and on the history and culture of British Guiana/ Guyana. The works of Edgar Mittelholzer, Wilson Harris, Fred D’Aguiar, Mark McWatt and others have been published. Local launches have been held for these books, copies of which have been presented to libraries and schools.

Among the list of works to be published are the National Assembly speeches by former presidents. A statement on the Caribbean Press website said this is an ongoing project, with several more volumes to be prepared for publication on the speeches of Forbes Burnham, Desmond Hoyte, Samuel Hinds, Arthur Chung and Bharrat Jagdeo.

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