I want to respond to Ruel Johnson’s letter titled ‘What is the number of books printed, shipped, delivered and distributed by the Caribbean Press?’ (SN, July 4).
First, I am no advocate of the Caribbean Press. Seeing my book in print and with such an elegant face, I felt obliged to thank the Caribbean Press, Dr David Dabydeen, and Dr Lynne Macedo for doing an exquisite job. Responding to this letter, Mr Johnson and others came out in a brutal attack on me.
Second, I respect Dr David Dabydeen for his scholarship and literary achievements. Apart from Derek Walcott, V S Naipaul, and Sir Wilson Harris, he is one of our finest writers in the Caribbean. Thus any writer who could have him edit his book is very fortunate. I was privileged that he had edited both my Whom the Kiskadees Call and The Dumb and Brave, and forever I will be grateful to him.
The matriarch of the PPP, Janet Jagan, indeed read the manuscript of my Whom the Kiskadees Call, and was so impressed with its structure, style, and poetic imagery that she prevailed upon Jeremy Poynting to publish it quickly. Whether Mr Johnson calls this political or personal, I am forever grateful to Janet Jagan for holding my book in such high literary esteem and giving me the impetus to write in prolific beauty for more than two decades, which Mr Johnson implies to be a literary drought.
Mr Johnson subtly implies that Dr Frank Anthony is known to me. I have never seen Dr Anthony, have never spoken to him, have never written to him. I now divulge that I know his brother Michael Anthony, with whom I worked at the District Commissioner’s Office, Enmore, in the mid-seventies, when we were both young men in our early twenties. And I have never met such a dignified and cultured guy as Michael; his family is one of the humblest, most dignified and most hospitable in Enmore.
Mr Johnson has questioned my literary productivity and quality, referring to non-vanity publication. Before I touch on this, with all humility, I want to let him know that over the past two decades I have been writing more than ten hours a day, have completed eight novels, five books of poems, twenty stage plays, ten screenplays, two non-fiction books, three soap operas, and over two hundred essays. More than eighty per cent of these works have been published, filmed or staged, whether by vanity or non-vanity avenues. I do not care what Mr Johnson deems vanity or non-vanity. My works are out there, and people are reading them. My literary destiny is to work hard, produce, and perfect my literary style. And I am reaching where I want to reach.
I want to let Mr Johnson know what this vanity or self-publishing has done to help me. In Guyana, when I was protesting the oppressive literary bureaucracy, I wrote a book, Labaria Puraan. Though this book was poorly edited, by virtue of few or no facilities, it has won me the Vera Rubin Residency Award at Yaddo, New York, America. Yaddo, one of most prestigious writers’ residencies in the world, attracts the best writers from every corner of the globe. Every year out of 15,000 applications only 50 are accepted, so tight is the competition. Derek Walcott is first Caribbean writer to win this award; I am the second, and it was won with a vanity/self-published book Mr Johnson is so contemptuous of.
Mr Johnson complains in letters and postings that he’s not being put to represent Guyana on government delegations. I want to advise him like a brother: a writer’s function is to write and not to dream of government delegations.
Writers leave such things as delegations to people who don’t have imagination. I wrote and have my works published by both vanity and non-vanity presses because I don’t want to sit down and muse over delegations and executive jobs, because I am a writer who must live by the power and wealth of my imagination ‒ whether do or die. And this has taken me very far in a literary career.
My friend Vishnu Bisram, whom Mr Johnson calls a PPP apologist, indeed recommended me for a job at Fiji National University, and forever I am grateful to this man. Whatever Mr Johnson wants to imply about my academic achievements, I want to let him know that I did not sit down and wait for handouts and mercies, writing things to attack and impress to find ways for favours. When the oppressive literary bureaucracy of Guyana held a knife to my throat, I crossed the shores to America, and for seven years did a menial night job to attend university during the day, so that I could complete my higher education. Today I am benefiting from this sacrifice and achievement as a visiting/assistant professor at Fiji National University. The Fijians are very grateful for what I have to offer, and all the blessings must go to Vishnu Bisram.
Finally, I want Mr Johnson to know that by this year end, I will have completed three more novels, which I have been working on over the past five years, and will make submissions again to the Caribbean Press, one of the finest presses of the Third World. In the furnace and wrath of Mr Johnson’s attacks on me, I would like him to read my The Dumb and Brave. I am grateful for his criticisms. After reading it, I hope he will realize that I was born and raised in Guyana, and that I deserve to be published by the Caribbean Press.