As a journalist I always believe that a few facts help a story. On the continuing farrago over the Caribbean Press (CP), I have sought some factual guidance from Professor Dabydeen (to declare an interest we are friends of twenty years standing. We invented the Guyana-UK High Commission awards together and have done much good work together at the Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies at the University of Warwick ‒ not Essex as one of your correspondents would have it!) Five key facts are as follows (most are available on the website http://caribbeanpress.org)
1.The Caribbean Press was set up in 2008 after noted regional writers like Derek Walcott petitioned then President Jagdeo at Carifesta. Since then it has published 59 titles and 38 more are in preparation ‒ 30,000 copies of books in total. All, bar author copies and Austin’s bookshop copies (which I hope I helped to facilitate) have been given to schools and public libraries in Guyana. All titles are available for free download on the Press website.
2. CP has brought back into the public domain the rich literary tradition of Guyana with writers like Wilson Harris, Roy Heath and of course Martin Carter. It has also contextualised these through introductions by scholars of note like Professors Clem Seecharran and Trevor Burnard, James Walvin and Brinsley Samaroo. The editors of the series are paid nothing for their work and the academic commentators have mostly waived their fees.
3. Since 2010 the CP has also brought into the public domain the National Assembly speeches of the great Guyanese presidents LFS Burnham, Desmond Hoyte, Cheddi and Janet Jagan ‒ 23 volumes in total, published or being prepared for publication. This is a public service with no fear of contradiction.
4. Six books by local, resident Guyanese writers have been published by CP including two collections/anthologies by the curator of that genre Petamber Persaud. They have had a fair shout. Let us not fool ourselves though, the writing talent is no longer confined to the borders of the country but spread in the diaspora. CP has also saved for the nation gems like the archives of the literary magazine Kyk Over Al and the Mittelholtzer lectures at UG. For other authors manqué, the steps on how to be published by CP are simply outlined on their website.
5. Professor Dabydeen has also pointed me towards the Janus Press set up a decade ago by Ruel Johnson which has to date published just two volumes ‒ both by the man himself. This adds some spice to the title of that Press.
There are some lacunae in the Caribbean Press initiative. I for one think the volumes should be much more freely advertised via the internet to the thousands in the diaspora craving to re-discover their roots and navel strings. They are the people’s history and literature.
They should also be on sale in all the bookshops of Guyana (and the diaspora), not just Austin’s. Less elitism please. Some commissioning decisions may have been perhaps in retrospect unwise. I cannot comment on the finances because I know nothing of them, but I am told that the Ministry of Culture will soon publish an audit report. Overall, though, shall we stop carping and give some credit to the Ambassador to China for enriching the intellectual present of Guyana with the riches of the past. There are much more pressing and important matters to address in the current Guyana.
John ‘Bill Cotton/Reform’ Mair