I take the time to reply once more to questions repeated by Rev Gideon Cecil who asserts in a letter “Guyana Prize for Literature has not helped emerging writers living and writing here.” (SN, July 9, 2018).
He asks why there has been such a long delay in the announcements of shortlist and awards for the Prize. By now Rev. Cecil ought to be aware that this is because the funding has not yet been made available to complete the process.
He repeats yet again his refusal to accept that a writer is allowed to enter the Prize as contestants one year and be asked to serve as a judge in another year. He declares “no award in the world will ever allow such an act”. He is wrong. Other major awards around the world do allow it.
In previous letters I have supplied the evidence to prove that former judges are not debarred from entering and winning, and former entrants, former winners are always asked to serve as judges. I gave several examples of these from the IMPAC Dublin, the Commonwealth, the OCM Bocas. These are not my opinions – they are facts that can be verified.
There is no such clause in the eligibility rules of the Man Booker Prize, or any of those others. The rules of the IMPAC Dublin speak to persons being entrants and judges at the same time, it does not bar them from entering or from being a judge in the future. Clearly, if I am a judge in 2018 I cannot enter in 2018. But when I am not a judge in 2019 I am not barred from entering. I supplied factual evidence of this happening in that same IMPAC Dublin Prize.
Rev. Cecil suggested “I believe regulations barring former judges from entering the Guyana Prize should be integrated into the award brochure.” That is a reasonable suggestion based on his opinion. But it has not been the view of the major literary prizes around the world. He also objects to writers entering the Prize and winning on repeated occasions. Those international literary prizes do not disqualify winners from entering again.
The former Whitbread Prize, now known as the Costa Book Awards is another of the major prizes. For the Best Novel, they have had winners repeating many times – Salman Rushdie, William Trevor, Kate Atkinson, Beryl Bainbridge. Poetry has been dominated by Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy, Ted Hughes. Incidentally, Duffy and Bainbridge have served repeatedly as judges a number of times for that same Prize, as have other winners including Susan Hill, Andrew Boyle and Paul Theroux. These are among many writers who re-appear as winners and judges of the same Prize.
If Rev. Cecil is still not satisfied, I can name other examples from the famous Pulitzer Prize. If this is acceptable practice around the world, why is it wrong in the Guyana Prize?
Has the Guyana Prize helped emerging writers living and writing here in Guyana? Rev. Cecil says “no”. He argues that local residents do not win because there is no publishing house in Guyana; overseas writers always have an advantage over the locals because they have opportunities for good editing, publishing and other facilities. We have, during the past week, heard two overseas writers declare that that is a myth.
The lack of local publishing houses is indeed a problem, but that has not condemned all local writers to oblivion. Harold Bascom, while living in Guyana, had his first novel, Apata, published by Heinemann. Rooplall Monar from his home in Annandale, had Backdam People published in England. Ryhaan Shah published her novels overseas without leaving home, as did a few others, including Moses Nagamootoo (Hendree’s Cure) and Deryck Bernard (Going Home and Other Stories).
But what has the Guyana Prize done to assist writers living here?
1. The Prize was established for the best of Guyanese writing at home and abroad, and it was for published books only. The Committee listened to comments from the local writing community and decided to assist locally resident writers by allowing them to submit unpublished manuscripts. Self-published works were also admitted.
2. This gave them a chance to be in the competition. It motivated several writers to produce, to compete and to grow as writers.
3. It opened the gate for several of them to be shortlisted and to win the Prize.
4. Several local residents won both with manuscripts and with published books.
5. Several workshops were conducted by locally resident and visiting writers.
6. These workshops were not sufficient, so, something more thorough, regular and lasting was needed. This resulted in collaboration with the Department of Culture. Courses in Creative Writing were created and run at the National School of Theatre Arts and Drama. Any of these courses in Fiction, Poetry or Playwriting can be taken free of cost by any emerging or developing writer. Substantial training was thus made available.
7. Five student writers were awarded Diplomas in Creative Writing from that programme in 2017. There was a public reading of selected work.
8. In collaboration with the Drama School, A National Creative Writing Competition in Poetry, Short Story and One-Act Plays was held for local emerging writers and nine prizes awarded in honour of the 50th Independence Anniversary.
9. An Annual National Poetry Slam was created for writers and performers of spoken word, performance poetry and hip-hop in cooperation with the Drama School. Writers were challenged to create compositions on social issues and patriotic pieces to generate a volume of meaningful compositions in a very popular art form.
10. Writers were invited to read their work publicly.
11. The Caribbean Press was established and one of its mandates was to fill the gap and have a good local publishing house available. This press published several local writers, and had started to pay attention to Guyana Prize winners.
Here is a Prize established for the highest quality of Guyanese writing that took on things not normally managed by literary prizes. The Guyana Prize, however, took them on because it saw the need for developmental programmes to help writers living in Guyana to develop to create the excellence in literature demanded by the Prize.