Don’t diminish Guyana Prize by separating local, overseas writers

Dear Editor,

I will stay away from the debate about whether the Guyana Prize for Literature Committee is functioning effectively, and whether past judges should participate.

What I will focus on are the suggestions by some that overseas participants have some sort of advantage over local participants, in terms of learning their craft; that some winners in the Diaspora may have been ‘given’ the award, and that a Guyana Prize category should be created for ‘disadvantaged’ locals, who would then compete separately from those in the Diaspora.

Editor, to suggest that some writers in the Diaspora were awarded the Guyana Prize because of some sort of connection with those responsible for its organization is insulting to those awardees.

Whether in the Diaspora or in Guyana, the writer faces the same hurdles (years of writing and re-writing, sometimes years of rejection, family and work-related issues etc.) while trying to produce his best work.

Those who suggest that there is an advantage of writing in the Diaspora forget that writers such as Harold Bascom, Dr. Paloma Mohamed, Ruel Johnson and Subraj Singh have also won this prestigious award while writing in their homeland. Are we saying that they had some fairy Godfather who ‘gave’ this award?

What should prevent a writer who remains at home from producing work that is on par with his follow writers who live overseas?

The answer is NOTHING!

What is there to prevent the local writer from honing his craft by constantly reading and studying the works of others, of reading the books on writing, the hundreds of articles and blogs on the internet posted by successful writers? What is there to prevent the local writer from showing his early drafts to some of his peers for honest, critical comment?

The second complaint/suggestion is that, because of this so-called ‘advantage’ those in the Diaspora have, the Guyana Prize committee should set up a separate category for us lesser mortals, we ‘local writers; perhaps, give the disadvantaged locals a ‘watered down’ version of the Prize.

What an insult to local writers and to this prestigious award!

Which self-respecting individual who calls him/herself a writer would not want to compete with the best? 

The category for First Fiction and First Book of Poetry already caters for ‘new’ and ‘young’ writers. In addition, because of the absence of publishing houses, local writers can submit manuscripts in the First Book category.

 I will end with this plea to the Honourable Minister of Social Cohesion, Culture, Youth and Sport: Pease don’t ‘water down’ the Guyana Prize for Literature. And please let’s not postpone the Guyana Prize for Literature award for another year.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Jordan

Local writer and journalist   

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