None of Mair’s ‘facts’ are correct

Dear Editor,

I refer to John Mair’s letter of June, 12 ‘We should stop carping…’   I suggest that Mr Mair think twice the next time he claims journalistic credentials so boldly.  None of his “facts” are correct.

(1) Derek Walcott did not petition former president  Bharrat Jagdeo to set up a Press, he embarrassed him publicly on the harping on infrastructural development “when your artists are starving.”  The result was Mr Jagdeo’s commitment to establish a publication mechanism to publish writers resident in the region, with the particular focus on emerging writers. The Caribbean Press has not done so outside of the books by Frank Anthony’s daughter and a friend of Dr Dabydeen, Cedric Costello – neither has won so much as a local literary competition, ever.  As for Mr Mair’s assertion that “all titles are available for download on the website,” this is completely untrue – 14 are, inclusive of seven volumes of Cheddi Jagan’s parliamentary speeches.

(2) No one is faulting the return of the works of Guyanese writers of yesteryear but this was not the specific function of the Press.  What was intended to be 30 titles expanded to 36 then to 38 and then an infinite number. Therefore, the Press which was set up to publish contemporary writers has become a mill for out-of-print books.  Secondly on this point, John Mair contradicts Dr Frank Anthony’s recent assertion that “no one is paid” with the assertion that “academic commentators mostly waived their fees.” Which is it? Free or partial payment? The Minister and Dr Dabydeen have refused to release financial records of the Press so we are left in the dark on this – in the interim pending the release of the audited records of the Press, I am sure Dr Anthony can release a simple figure of complete expenditure on the Press to date – I wouldn’t hold my breath though, since the Minister is yet to release to the public the audited records of expenditure for Carifesta X, 2008.  This stalling and speaking through poor proxies like Mr Mair appears a tad bit disingenuous and deliberately defensive.

(3) The Caribbean Press has brought into the public domain the speeches of Cheddi Jagan, seven volumes; Janet Jagan, two; and LFS Burnham, one.  There is none for Hoyte which means the Press would have placed overwhelming emphasis on the PPP presidents, with a token nod to Burnham for coverage.  This is the PPP’s pattern that finds a parallel in almost every aspect of the distribution of public resources, most notably in recent times, the frequency licence distribution issue.

(4) Of the six (literary) books “published by the Press,” one is by the Minister’s daughter, one by David Dabydeen’s friend, and two by Press consultant Ian McDonald (a third, his Sunday columns, has been also published).  The anthologies of resident writers are yet to make an appearance.  I already pointed out that of the eight “resident” writers in the fiction anthology, two died even before the establishment of the Press; two migrated long before; two – McDonald and [Petamber Persaud] – are directly associated with the Press; and one, yours truly, was not aware of, and did not give permission for publication of his story.  The eighth writer, Ryhaan Shah also seemed unaware of her inclusion.  With regard to the poetry, every single writer said to be included and to whom I have spoken had no clue about their being published.  We may also note that neither of these anthologies has seen the light of day.  With regard to the guide for would-be writers, available online, it was posted on Tuesday of this week – I should know since I approved it in general with Dr Dabydeen two weeks ago.  I’m also happy to see that Dr Dabydeen took my advice and removed the publications list from the Updates page.

(5)  With regard to “the Janus Press set up a decade ago by Ruel Johnson,” my first book, Ariadne and Other Stories, was published by yours truly after it won the Guyana Prize in manuscript form.  I took the decision to remain here, to seek to create a literature that was relevant to the society I exist in, and to ensure that my own writing did not have to go abroad to be approved before coming back here.  When I published Fictions, Volume 1, I decided to do so under a branded imprint, Janus Books, under which I would release all my future work.  As I recently communicated to Dr Dabydeen, the concept evolved this year, that in addition to my own work, I would publish that of other emerging writers in Guyana starting from next year.  The reason for this decision should be obvious to Drs Anthony and Dabydeen and Mr Mair, ie, that the Caribbean Press which was established with the specific purpose of publishing emerging local writers has essentially become a historical writing pulp mill and a vanity press. Mr Mair, from his residence in England, says that there are more important issues to deal with than accountability and literary development – that is the sort of idiotic and anachronistic colonial mentality that specifically disqualifies him for any sort of credible comment on what goes on in this place.  If Mr Mair is the best external support that Frank Anthony and David Dabydeen can conjure, then things are even direr with the Caribbean Press than I initially fathomed.  More time and text has been spent on trying to deflect hard questions and to malign my character and achievements than to answer straight questions with regard to the Press.  The problem with Minister Anthony is that his complete incompetence with regard to the management of his portfolio is overshadowed only by his hubristic inability to recognize this, and to accept assistance given in good faith for the greater good.  I repeat, unless he is willing immediately to provide financial information on the running of the Press, and to produce the anthologies of contemporary writers he claims to have been published by the Caribbean Press, he should resign immediately.  This continues to be an embarrassment to the people of Guyana.

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson

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