Were the Caribbean Press books produced in small quantities on demand or in bulk?

Dear Editor,

 

I read, with bemused interest and not a small amount of disdain, the article ‘Culture Ministry hands over Guyana Classics to libraries’ (SN, June 6). Dr Frank Anthony seems to have lost the plot in relation to the Caribbean Press, so let me attempt to put him back on track.   According to information on the handover published on his ministry’s website, “Minister Anthony suggested that the National Library be given two sets of the Classics because of the large number of readers who frequent the facility.”

This shows the Minister’s ignorance with regard to how publishing works in Guyana. He is not doing the National Library a favour by now donating the books with a ‘generous’ two copies of each title; local publishers are obligated by law to donate one copy of each produced title to the library, although I have always made it a practice to donate several copies above the obligatory legal deposit. As Capitol News reported in June of last year, even as the Caribbean Press was boasting 60 titles, the library only had single copies of 13 of those. The Minister therefore held a press conference to highlight the fact that he was fulfilling a basic requirement that the Caribbean Press should have fulfilled more than a year late, or years in many cases since the bulk of the books were published before last year.

Of course, nowhere to be seen were the books by local writers he and Dr David Dabydeen promised over a year-and-a-half ago. In January of 2013, in a letter to Stabroek News, Dr Dabydeen promised:

“….a poetry anthology (at the printers) featuring 22 local Guyanese writers, most of them never published before, and at least two who show serious talent and should be encouraged to produce full volumes. These will be launched publicly when I am next in Guyana, as well as a book by Cedric Costello, entitled Rasta Lyrics, an anthology of Guyanese folksongs, and an anthology of Guyanese short stories. An anthology of Guyanese plays is in the making.”

Dr Dabydeen has come and gone, and Mr Costello, a writer with no proven ability either before or after publication, and one who owed his employment to Drs Dabydeen and Anthony, remains the only ‘emerging writer’, outside of Dr Anthony’s daughter, who has had their work produced and launched by the Caribbean Press, five years after the Press was established expressly to publish local writers.   We were informed since March of this year, by the ministry’s PRO, Tekia Hanover, that “Twenty-Five Poems by Guyanese Children Vol. 1 and Anthology of Contemporary Guyanese Verse – were recently delivered to the Ministry. Further, the Ministry will be announcing the launch of the new books soon.” (‘Two new books from Caribbean Press delivered to the Ministry of Culture,’ SN, March 2) And in April, during his parliamentary presentation, the Minister also promised books by local writers Pearl Lewis, Portia Dodson and Andrew Hutson. None of these books has yet seen the light of day, nor was there any transparency in the selection process for the authors. The Editorial Board promised by Minister Anthony, Dr Dabydeen and President Ramotar since last year has yet to emerge.

Finally, there is the issue of the dismal accountability of the Caribbean Press when it comes to claimed expenditure particularly on the printing and shipping of books.

This is John Mair, acting as proxy for the Caribbean Press when the Minister and Dr Dabydeen ran from my questions on the number of books produced by the Press and their location: “I have sought some factual guidance from Professor Dabydeen (to declare an interest we are friends of twenty years standing… Five key facts are as follows… 1) The Caribbean Press was set up in 2008 after noted regional writers like Derek Walcott petitioned then President Jagdeo at Carifesta. Since then it has published 59 titles and 38 more are in preparation ‒ 30,000 copies of books in total. All, bar author copies and Austin’s bookshop copies (which I hope I helped to facilitate) have been given to schools and public libraries in Guyana” (‘We should stop carping and give credit to Dabydeen for enriching the intellectual present of Guyana with the riches of the past,’ SN, June 12, 2013).

However, in July of last year, when asked the question, the Minister could not account, in Parliament, for the numbers of books printed, shipped and landed in Guyana and where they were located. Now, we have, according again to the article on the ministry’s website, the ministry’s Director of Culture, Dr James Rose, noting that “small packets of the books were being given to a number of agencies as they came off the press as such today’s donation seeks to fill-out the collection located within those agencies.”

In a more responsible and competent parliamentary and independent press environment, this would raise red flags. It is either that the books are being produced in small quantities on demand as Rose indicates and the Ministry is now catching up with distribution; or it is that they were produced in bulk in thousands of copies as Drs Anthony and Dabydeen and Mr Mair have claimed. I do not anticipate Dr Anthony’s response to these issues.

 

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson
Janus Cultural Policy Initiative

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