It is clear that Dr Frank Anthony and Dr David Dabydeen have both reached some point of desperation when it comes to evading the public on the Caribbean Press. We’ve moved from Dr Dabydeen’s post facto nolo episcopari protestations about giving up the editorship of the press, to the Minister’s PR stunt press interviews and subsequent evasions, to the laughably ineffective pen John “Bill Cotton/Reform” Mair, to now Churaumanie Bissundyal’s latest lauding of how grateful he is to the Caribbean Press.
The historical narrative given by Mr Bissundyal, contrary to the clear intent of the letter, actually proves the allegations, both personal and political, relating to the Caribbean Press under Drs Anthony and Dabydeen. In summary, Mr Bissundyal’s first publication two decades ago would have benefited from the tremendous influence brought to bear by both Dr Dabydeen and matriarch of the PPP, Janet Jagan, with Dabydeen providing editorial services for the work as well. Fast forward to today, and again Dr Dabydeen has gone to Mr Bissundyal’s aid to publish his new book under the Caribbean Press – I know of no other non-vanity press publication by the writer. It is illustrative that the writer should also seek in the same breath to express gratitude to another PPP apologist, Vishnu Bisram, in facilitating his assistant professorship at the Fiji National University.
Of the locally resident emerging writers for whom the Press was supposedly established four years ago, only Ashley Anthony, the Minister’s daughter has actually had a book published by the Press, and one which benefited from the personal attention and care by both Dr Dabydeen and his nephew. Other local writers, in contrast, were, by Dr Dabydeen’s express and summary judgment, labelled lazy and incompetent.
In the past two weeks, Petamber Persaud, ‘editor’ of the two ‘national’ anthologies of fiction and poetry – which we were assured were at the printers going on seven months now – has taken to e-mailing the select writers chosen by the ministry for inclusion in what is clearly a mythical anthology of contemporary poetry. In his e-mail, Persaud expresses ‘shock’ at learning from the media that he, the person credited with the coordination and editing of the books, did not in fact receive permission to publish from the poets whose work he was publishing – he was strangely silent on the issue of the anthology of short fiction. He, who both the Minister and Dr Dabydeen apparently could not make contact with two weeks ago to ascertain whether permission was granted, has now re-emerged not only seeking that formerly overlooked permission to publish on behalf of the Press, but is now offering the princely sum of $1,500 per poem. We may note that the Caribbean Press was this year allocated $16.25M under the Sports and Arts Fund.
When I responded on behalf of the writers, outlining conditions for moving forward (a national call for entries, workshops, proper remuneration, an apology for the doggerel comments) Dr Dabydeen chose to respond with a fictional account of our interaction, one I hope he dares put into the public domain, before essentially underscoring his ‘doggerel’ comments and refusing to address the other conditions outlined. As far as I know, neither he nor Mr Persaud has sent out any further collective correspondence subsequent to my rebuttal. I anxiously await whatever excuse for a national anthology they are going to seek to concoct in the upcoming months.
Of course, conspicuously silent in all this is the Minister of Culture. Dr Anthony has proven a chameleon in the aftermath of the Caribbean Press being placed in the spotlight. He has patently refused to address the following issues:
The exact amount of money spent so far on the Caribbean Press, and precisely on what it was spent. Dr Anthony paid for the printing and shipping of his daughter’s work, yet even those figures seem out of his reach to provide to the public.
Who were the people paid for services rendered to the Caribbean Press and were their services subject to any competitive bidding as would be standard public procurement practice?
What is the exact number of books printed, shipped, delivered and distributed? The Caribbean Press booklet lists only five titles as “at the printers,” out of a total of a ‘published’ 61, yet the National Library up to last week possessed only single copies of 17; of these only 13 were available to the public for access. Additionally, the Book Distribution Unit of the Ministry of Education has had no part in distributing the Caribbean Press books to schools despite the claim that the bulk of the books, theoretically numbering in the tens of thousands, were for the school system. So far, the only entity that has been in actual, verifiable possession of a sizeable quantity of books is Austin’s Book Store, which has purchased a little over a thousand copies of the Guyana Classics series, spread over a mere 23 titles.