The Guyana Prize for Literature has quite a lot to celebrate

Dear Editor,

The Management Committee of the Guyana Prize for Literature has occasionally released information about the Prize and its activities.  The release of this information has always included, as a main strategy, paid advertisements in the press.  However, releases were also dispatched and, as the major literary event in the country, there might have been an expectation that the Prize would attract more than passing notice in the media.  This has not been the case.

Moreover, what generates controversy or blame is usually much more newsworthy than what reports accomplishment or benefit.  Despite releasing these to the public, therefore, it is still up to us to highlight those elements of the Guyana Prize that may be considered successes or positive contributions.  These have generally not been treated and have been overshadowed by the attention paid to controversial or negative matter.

Among the highlights of the Guyana Prize activities since 2011, has been the increased emphasis on training and development.  Specifically, a series of writers’ workshops and training sessions have been held to assist local writers and aspirants to better understand the craft and improve their work. This was a response to a need for a greater developmental input so that there is not only reward for good writing, but efforts to assist the production of good writing in a local situation where there is not much help.

We regard this series of training sessions a success.  They have included sessions held by leading international writers.  Among these were Pauline Melville, Janice Lowe Shinebourne, Gaiutra Bahadur, Mark McWatt, John Agard and Grace Nichols. In 2011 experts who came to Guyana for the Guyana Prize Caribbean Award were utilised.   Sessions were held by Stewart Brown, Myriam Chancy and Mark McWatt.  In addition, not only writers, but teachers of drama and literature were targeted when members of the Caribbean Prize Jury, Rawle Gibbons and Prof Funso Aiyejina held a workshop on the UG Berbice Campus at Tain, Corentyne.

In addition to those, an extended Playwriting class has just ended in which some of the classes were conducted by celebrated writer Prof David Dabydeen and Lori Shelbourn of the University of Leeds in the UK.  This class was sponsored by the Guyana Prize and held in collaboration with the Department of Language and Cultural Studies at UG and the National School of Drama.

This represented an unprecedented and most concentrated focus in the training of writers over a two-year period by the Guyana Prize.  It was made possible because the funds received for the Prize included provisions for workshops conducted by both locally based and international writers and experts who also gave public lectures.

Coinciding with the life of the Prize has been a forward leap in Guyanese literature with a multiplicity of new writers and work that increased in geometric proportions.  Most of this has taken place overseas among Guyanese writers mostly in the UK, Canada and the USA.  But the Prize can claim to have contributed to that significantly, having played a role in many of them coming to prominence.

The Commonwealth Writers Prize was developed when the Commonwealth Foundation thought more and more writers were developing in various Common-wealth countries and the Prize could give them more exposure and bring Common-wealth writing more to the world’s attention.  Since then this writing has grown to be among the world leaders in contemporary literature.  The case of the Guyana Prize and Guyanese literature is similar.  The Prize shared those objectives and has seen similar results.

Where locally based writers are concerned, many of them have developed over a period of entering work in the Guyana Prize to be of international stature.  Some have left the country for residence overseas after having won the Prize at home. Others have won the Prize with unpublished manuscripts which they have since published.  Those have then been added to the corpus of Guyanese literature.  Over the life of the Prize there has been some advance in local literature.

The activities of the Guyana Prize in 2012 to 2013 therefore have quite a lot to celebrate, and there is a need to state it for the records.

 

Yours faithfully,
Al Creighton

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