What is the function of the Caribbean Press Board in selecting works?

Dear Editor,

Like David Dabydeen, I have my own writing to do and this issue of the Caribbean Press is proving tedious, particularly in the willingness of certain players to either remain silent in what is a clear cut issue, or to bend over backward to accommodate the most absurdly facile rationalisations.  I note in this regard your own publication’s apology to Dr Anthony.

To any fair arbiter observing this situation, I believe Dr Dabydeen’s essential rebuttal of my claim is embarrassingly flawed and self-contradictory.  He cites that the press is peer-reviewed, yet takes sole responsibility for selecting and editing for publication Ashley Anthony’s work.  He claims as historic the act of a child writing for children, yet the history of literary competitions in this country – the Guyana (Christmas) Annual in particular – completely negates that ludicrous claim.  Any of the short stories written by children I published in the Guyana Christmas Annual of 2001 could have been expanded with editorial guidance into a quality novella.  In 2007, under the GEMS Theatre Workshop facilitated by Gem Madhoo-Nascimento, I worked with several children to develop original stories which we then worked into scripts, one of which was produced as a film and screened around Guyana.  I recently worked with a five, a six and a seven-year-old who came up with excellent ideas for children’s books, and whom I’ve also tasked with illustrating them.

With that anecdotal evidence alone, I believe we can fairly establish that Ms Anthony’s book did not undergo any open competitive process to determine its qualification for publication under the Press. Now, Drs Dabydeen and Anthony both take pains to point out fairly specifically that the printing and shipping costs attached to the Press were covered by the Minister’s donation.  Now, publication is a process that includes but is not limited to “printing and shipping,” as Dr Dabydeen well knows.  There is editing, proofing, layout and design, and cover art – did the minister pay for these as well?  And if he did, why take pains to point out only that printing and shipping were covered by the Minister’s personal donation the Press?

And equally as important to all these is the issue of branding.  I may use the same printer as Farrar, Strauss and Giroux to produce my book, but that does not give me the authority to use – without compensation to them – that much vaunted FSG logo.  The government may want to build a hotel, but they cannot place the trade name Marriott on it without paying the substantive fees associated with that name.  In so far as the brand of the Caribbean Press has been established exclusively via the expenditure of taxpayer dollars, and in so far as no valuation of the brand has been conducted which puts a null or zero dollar value to that brand, and in so far as the minister has given the appearance that he has not paid the Press for that brand, taxpayer dollars would appear to have been used. What I cannot get is why this is such a difficult thing to comprehend.

I read my friend Barrington Braithwaite’s letter and I understand now that the local literary community has been less than vigilant with regard to what has been promised by the Caribbean Press, and what has been delivered.  Let me simply quote an article in Stabroek News, published on January 3, 2010.

“These [Guyana Classics] books were, however, printed outside of the region and the Minister said this was primarily because of concerns that the required quality would not be obtained if the books were printed in Guyana or the region.  Anthony said, however, that efforts were being made to ensure that the next publications were at least printed within the region if not in Guyana.  Professor Dabydeen is the editor for the publishing house, while the editorial board comprises several outstanding Caribbean writers such as Derek Walcott, Earl Lovelace and Pauline Melville.  GINA had quoted Dabydeen as saying the press would provide jobs for Guyanese while increasing the intellectual capacity as well as the printing capacity in the county.  Dabydeen, according to GINA, said that the establishment of the publishing house was an act of independence and that it ‘could be something of excellence.’  He had opined that some Caribbean writers felt that for too long they have been subjected to the imperialistic process where the raw material of their imagination had to be sent to London to be converted into a book and then returned at a high price.”

How many of the books, three years later, have been published in the region?  Who are the current members of the editorial board, and when was it constituted?   What is the function of the board in selecting the works published by the press, and under what mechanism of assessment and deliberation?  How much has the intellectual and printing capacity within the country increased due to a direct engagement with the Caribbean Press?  How has the “imperialistic process” changed with regards to the raw material of the imagination being “sent to London to be converted into a book”? Indeed, how much of that “raw material of the imagination” of contemporary writers resident in Guyana has even been sent to London for processing?

I do owe an apology to Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, for suggesting that he has been contracted to produce a title by the Press.  In a Facebook comment on the issue, publisher of Peepal Tree Press, Jeremy Poynting, offered the following correction: “The mention of Dr Rupert Roopnaraine’s name as a contributor to the Caribbean Press is a mistake. When we licensed Mittelholzer’s Shadows Move Among Them to the Caribbean Press, it came complete with Dr Roopnaraine’s excellent introduction, as did others of the Caribbean Classics come with their introductions.”

My substantial criticisms and claims in this matter still stand.

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson

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