Anthologies of local fiction, poetry still to be published

Dear Editor,

We have almost reached the end of the year and the anthologies of local fiction and poetry that Minister of Culture, Dr. Frank Anthony, assured us will be published by the Caribbean Press at least six months ago have yet to see fruition.

Not only is this reminiscent of the non-existent anthology of poetry that was promised for Carifesta X, five years ago, but we can officially add this to the government’s utter failure to honour its much publicized commitments to support the work of local writers.

Guyana is off the radar for most regional and international literary activities, despite the pomp and ceremony attendant to the Guyana Prize.  I was recently sent an online message which read in part, “I received an email from the lady in charge of promoting the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.  They receive very few entries from Guyana…. Thought you might be interested and/or be able to pass the word on to a couple of other local writers.

I’m sure there is a wealth of unpublished fiction in Guyana that would welcome a little oxygen.”

My concern remains that due to the incompetence of Dr. Anthony, and the passive-aggressive hostility of his party towards the arts, Guyana continues to be debilitated in an area that holds promise not just for our social life but our economic existence as well.

I recall Anthony’s tacit agreement with Dr. David Dabydeen’s inane pronouncement that local writers were producing “doggerel” and “puppyrel”.  Contrary to that pronouncement, the subsequent months have seen three out of the five Guyana Prize winners being resident writers under 35 years of age, including yours truly.  Additionally, I have also won this year’s fiction prize for the internationally respected Small Axe literary competition and placed second in the poetry prize.

As I have repeatedly said, I personally know of about a dozen local writers who can produce international quality work, given the opportunity and resources.  The first problem is that the environment is hostile to their development – the primary education system has issues with handling basic literacy, the secondary education programmes don’t encourage creative writing, and the University of Guyana does not have so much as a creative writing ‘summer’ programme.  Worse than this however is the government’s insidious approach to ‘fostering’ creative writing, which is to create mechanisms which purport to give life to literary development in Guyana, but which work in effect to essentially stymie such development.

The worst of these mechanisms so far is the Caribbean Press, one that has become a symbol of official incompetence, instead of the promise it once held as an idea.  The entity’s ‘website’ has remained much the same ever since it was hastily established in the wake of my enquiries earlier this year; and the Minister has failed to account fully for the monies spent and the books said to be delivered, receiving respite in Parliament only because this issue has been eclipsed by one of greater government opacity and non-accountability, the Amaila Falls Project.  Also, as I predicted, the Board of Directors for the Caribbean Press, which the Minister promised in July of this year (and which was promised much earlier by Dabydeen), is yet to see the light of day.

Now, I understand that the PPP as a party – and hence as a government – is highly suspicious of intellectual activity, writing in particular, but someone within government has to be sentient enough to acknowledge that the tactic of purporting to support literature but delivering nothing is increasingly transparent.  As I have said repeatedly, Anthony should resign based on his non-performance, incompetence and lack of accountability on issues of cultural development alone.  Local writers deserve far better.

Yours faithfully, 
Ruel Johnson

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