There were email exchanges with Dabydeen on the post of Caribbean Press executive director

Dear Editor,

Two things.  I would like to publicly apologise to Kojo McPherson, one of the higher profile young poets, for my accusations of what I misperceived to be his cowardice on not speaking out on the Caribbean Press.  Mr McPherson’s intervention (SN, Jun 14) has been measured, strong and direct in exposing the exact state of the management of cultural policy in Guyana.  I urge other emerging writers and artists in Guyana to emulate his example and to speak out more since I have taken the decision to step back on this issue.

With regard to John Mair  (‘Johnson should move…’ SN, Jun 14), after conceding one “minor” error in his pompous five “fact” missive, and ignoring my thorough but not exhaustive deconstruction of every single thing he had so boldly and erroneously affirmed, he sought to engineer an ignominious exit with the pathetic Parthian shot of:

“Plainly he [Ruel Johnson] dislikes the Press and the Caribbean Classics in particular, but could he also explain how it came about that he (or somebody purporting to be he) wrote to Ambassador Dabydeen in May of this year offering to be ‘Executive Director’ of the Caribbean Press for a salary of three million, one hundred and twenty thousand dollars ($3,120,000).”

That statement alone illustrates what appears to be a shocking level of duplicity on the part of Dr Dabydeen in his public handling of these issues, since Mr Mair appears to be speaking with his approval.  I have repeatedly said that the Caribbean Press, managed properly, can strategically and innovatively locate Guyana at the centre of a fledgling regional creative industries machinery, one with a tremendous potential for growth.

With his assertion that I wrote to Dr Dabydeen asking for what he clearly believes to be an exorbitant salary for an editor, Mr Mair has simply opened himself and Dr Dabydeen to further embarrassment.  In a letter published earlier this year, the Ambassador publicly appealed for help with the Press. My response in an e-mail of January 15th read in part:

“In my response to your letter I am going to ignore the idiosyncrasies of your exercising of your editorial privilege, focusing instead on how such a mechanism should run, and I expect that I am going to find the Minister amenable to the suggestions therein.  I am willing to advise the press on a voluntary basis, but it has to be through some fruitful and prolonged engagement with tangible results.”

With regard to the e-mails between Dabydeen and I in May of this year, coming after Dabydeen’s doom and gloom article on the Caribbean Press, and his appeal to hand over his title as Executive Editor, I proposed an Executive or Consulting Editor position:

“I will happily function as Executive Director for the Press, based on a two-year action plan I am constructing, or as a consultant to the Executive Director although I am cautious about the replication of remuneration in any capacity.”  (May 15)

When Dr Dabydeen responded questioning my qualifications, I had to inform him of the extent of my editorial experience, explaining to him the urgency of rescuing the Press, ending off that correspondence with:

“The PPP’s targetting of my employment in no way diminishes my capacity to run the Press, considering what is being exposed with regard to its management ‒ and even so, I’ve offered my consultancy services.  The money is there and even [if] it is not, I will arrange for private sponsorship of the post as a project.” (May 23)

Dr Dabydeen then vacillated again in his e-mail by asking – days after he did an interview in which he lamented about the impending failure of the Press – “Please explain how the Press is shipwrecked so I can try to better understand your logic. I have plans for another 20 books, including reprints of KYK from the 1940s, which I will fund myself if necessary.” (May 23)
I gave him detailed breakdown of various aspects of the Press’ mismanagement, closing off thus:

“I again offer my expertise on moving the Press forward ‒ when I offered initially in January it was on a voluntary basis, a luxury I can no longer afford…   You can create a consultancy TOR, advertise it and I will apply ‒ if selected, I can publicly sign a contract for which I can be accountable for non-performance.”  (May 24)
He sent an e-mail that included the following:

“You were good enough to respond to my call for assistance, and I will inform Minister Anthony. Can you clarify what you mean by Executive Director? Are you willing to take up a post as Commissioning Editor, with responsibility for production (editing, overseeing publishing, sending out review copies, etc) of writing from resident Guyanese, at all stages, including preparatory workshops? Forgive me, I don’t know salaries: what do you think a Commissioning Editor should be paid?”  (May 28)
I responded, in part:

“Titles are of little importance to me ‒ once the work gets done, I am fine with that; I have ghost-written and edited a great deal for many people, from high academic, to senior management to university student.  The duties you described can be easily covered, whatever the title, and I in fact intend to do much more, even as I farm out basic proofing to some fledgling editorial services businesses started by young people.  I also have fiction, drama, feature journalism and poetry modules that I have tested at various levels to initial positive results.  Considering that the position would be fulltime, US$1000 per month would be acceptable, US$1300 would be fair.  It would allow me to focus almost exclusively on the work at hand.  I can come up with a draft TOR setting out the duties expected and how the Press can function for the upcoming year.” (May 28)
He responded, in part:

“If you can come up with a draft as per your letter that would be very useful. I’ve already written to Frank mentioning you as a potential Commissioning Editor. When I get your draft and give the leaflet more thought I’ll approach Frank again.” (May 28)
I responded:

“The editorial position I have envisioned will focus on developing and managing four primary areas –
“Discovering new writers
* an annual schools competition co-sponsored by the private sector
* a biennial (twice-yearly) literary magazine focused on new writing, possibly a rebranded Kyk
* review of manuscript submissions to the Guyana Prize for literature
Training new writers
* annual workshops in different age categories and different genres of writing
* operating a non-lending library space
“Equipping new writers
* an annual writer’s grant for a promising new talent, also co-sponsored by the private sector
* provision of a shared space for writers, equipped with netbooks and managed by the Caribbean Press
* training of writers in production – layout and design technology, blogging et al
“Research
* Market research
* Research on collaborative agencies

In terms of going forward, the process needs to start now, not later.  I’m producing my own books, and I have excellent support from the corporate community, but I have a name whereas the average emerging writer does not.  Ideally, I would like for the CP local writer books to be launched before or not too long after mine because it would prove hard to explain to the public the continued absence of emerging local writers. We are faced with the fairly embarrassing situation of a press being announced at Carifesta 2008 with the express purpose of publishing contemporary resident writers, and five years later Guyana is sending a contingent to Carifesta this August with no new [local] writers other than Mr Castello and Ms Anthony being published by that Press after four years of its existence.”  (May 29)

I was the one who cut off correspondence with Dr Dabydeen because he kept shifting goalposts with regard to the very engagement he asked for.  My last e-mail to him reads in its entirety:
‒ the deadline I gave Anthony for contacting me has passed.  I’ve spent the past several years seeking out and personally mentoring promising young writers in Guyana using whatever resources are at my disposal and I will continue to do so.e of my own business which includes training, editorial consulting and publishing ‒ I will be expanding on the publications aspect of it next year beyond the publication of my own work and my attempt at the engagement with the Ministry was to ensure that all boat[s] rise more or less equally. Whenever a more honest, decent and progressive political regime is put in place, I will work with them.” (June 4)

Now, I am willing to let anyone scrutinize firsthand those e-mails directly in my inbox.  What is troublesome about all this is the lengths Dr Dabydeen has gone to twist and misrepresent the truth on this issue.  If he can communicate, through Mr Mair, the salary that he asked me to quote, he should find it equally easy to communicate the exact amount of money spent so far on the Press.

In closing (and perhaps unrelated to the central theme but still too irksome to continue to ignore) I humbly beg of Mr Mair that he, as a prerequisite for any further intervention on anything in the public domain, lose the self-coined moniker – it was amusing for all of five seconds and that was ten years ago. The seriousness of the issues of the Caribbean Press taken into account, I find it absurd and a bit demeaning, that I am forced to even engage an adult who, without irony, refers to himself in public correspondence as “Bill Cotton/Reform.”

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson

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