No policy document governing the functioning of the Caribbean Press has been released

Dear Editor,

I am unsure of precisely where to begin in addressing Dr David Dabydeen’s letter, but I shall try my level best (‘Minister Anthony paid the printing and shipping costs of his daughter’s book’ SN, January 15).

First of all, Dr Dabydeen announces a plethora of publications that are yet to be released from the Caribbean Press: an anthology of 22 local Guyanese poets, a book called Rasta Lyrics by Cedric Costello, an anthology of Guyanese folksongs, an anthology of Guyanese plays, and an anthology of Guyanese short stories.  He states that all of these books were announced last July, yet I personally have not seen a single call for publications published, as is standard in compiling an anthology such as those suggested to be in production.  I offer myself as someone whose work might prove of sufficient merit to at least warrant consideration of inclusion, I have nothing slated for publication in any of the anthologies.  I presume that if I am so easy to find to have a lawyer’s letter threatening suit delivered to my doorstep, an invitation for submissions could have found its way into my e-mail inbox.

With regard to the selection of the work in question, Dr Dabydeen states:

“I announced that I would be publishing a novella by Ashley Anthony, which would be historic since it would be the first book written by a Guyanese child for Guyanese children. I was so taken by the literary quality of this young person’s writing, which I came across in 2011, that I accepted it for publication, early in 2012, subject to revision.”

Now, I agree completely with Dr Dabydeen that it does not matter whether the father of any child selected to have their work published by the Caribbean Press is a minister or humble carpenter.  It would however be helpful for the Professor to inform us – prior to his decision to include a manuscript that was by his own admission subject to tedious revision – how many carpenters’ children were sought out for their own ‘historic’ manuscripts?

Further, Dr Dabydeen states that the Caribbean Press is a peer-reviewed press – he can therefore assist in enlightening us as to who precisely were the peers, outside of himself, responsible for the review of Ms Ashley Anthony’s book.

Also he offers a narrative in his letter in which Ms Anthony “argued with me on many occasions as editor, before I deemed it worthy of publication in our 2013 list.”  Yet the GINA article on the book’s release has the following revelation about the book’s editing – “With the help of an English editor who is the nephew of renowned author Dr David Dabydeen, the book was published.”

Now, to the touchy issue of payment for the “printing and shipping” of the books. As far as I know, the taxpayer-funded Caribbean Press is not an accounting entity unto itself, and while editorial prerogative may fall under him as Honorary Editor, the ultimate mechanism for preparing payments for services provided to the Press (and presumably receiving revenue) falls under the Ministry of Culture, headed by Dr Frank Anthony.  Therefore, any decision with regard to as large a payment as required for publication and shipping has to be authorised at the very least at the level of the Permanent Secretary.  If this is not the case, then questions have to be asked as to exactly how much has been expended on the Caribbean Press initiative, and who precisely is charge of such expenditure.

Now, Dr Dabydeen is extremely ambiguous as to how the Minister’s generous donation to the Press for the printing and shipping of the books was integrated into the publication mechanism’s accounting system.  Was it the case where the Minister “donated” the monies before publication and/or shipping?  Or was it a case where the Press paid the cost for both upfront and the Minister subsequently refunded the payment?  I notice that the Minister hesitated to release the actual print run of the books.

All that is of course moot – the narrative offered is problematic enough.  The Honorary Editor of the taxpayer-funded Caribbean Press apparently unilaterally and without seeking elsewhere decides upon the literary merit and historicity of a manuscript written by the thirteen-year-old daughter of the Minister of Culture, under whose ministry the functional and fiscal aegis the Press falls; personally supervises the development of the manuscript; and then reluctantly accepts, under no publicised accounting guidelines, a donation to the Press from the Minister (to avoid the snarls of political commentators), a fact that was not mentioned in the state media promoted release of the book in question.

Every single publicly funded arts development mechanism in the United Kingdom has clear guidelines for eligibility of award/selection/membership; has an established board or council responsible for award/selection/membership; and has a clearly established process for award/selection/membership.

Indeed, every single reputable privately funded arts development organization in England has the same basic criteria governing their function.

For example, the selection process for fellowship in the Royal Society of Literature – of which Dr Dabydeen is a member – is as follows:

“Nominations: New Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature are elected by current Fellows. To be nominated for Fellowship, a writer must have published two works of literary merit. Nominations must be seconded by an RSL Fellow.

“Council Vote:  All nominations are presented to members of the Council of the Royal Society of Literature, who vote biannually to elect new Fellows. Nominated candidates who have not been successful are reconsidered at every election for three years from the year in which they were proposed.”

Now, it is even clearer to me that there may be deep and fundamental flaws in the way the Caribbean Press is being run.  For all the public responses to my interrogation, now going on two weeks, not a single policy document governing the functioning of the entity has been quoted, with only the term “literary merit” being thrown about.

Dr Dabydeen expressed his interest in giving up the voluntary position of Honorary Editor of the Press.  I humbly suggest that he keep the title of “Honorary” even as he divests himself of the tremendous – and obviously overwhelming – executive powers currently invested therein, transferring them to the collective responsibility of a board of competent and independent individuals, one to which I will willingly volunteer my humble expertise.

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson

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