Guyana Prize for Literature is easily fixable

Dear Editor,

Considering my public position, I often find myself constrained from making public commentary on a variety of issues, particularly those concerning arts and culture.  One such issue is the Guyana Prize for Literature.

With regard to what needs to be done immediately to fix the Guyana Prize, I have long made very detailed recommendations in my professional capacity.  It is my hope that those recommendations are now taken into account with some urgency.

In my personal capacity, I’ve written about the shortcomings of the Prize for almost twenty years and from my first letter to now, nothing significant has changed for the better with regard to the most important role the Prize should play, the development of emerging writers in Guyana.

Outside of this, there has been no meaningful innovation in the management of the Prize in its thirty plus years of existence.  The comparable BOCAS award in Trinidad for example has been able to expand, in less than a decade, beyond the basic literary prize component to a span of activities stretching over months and ending in the weeklong Bocas Lit Fest, featuring performances, lectures, seminars, workshops, readings and complementary competitions including spoken word.  The Guyana Prize after thirty years does not have a structured workshop programme, has not been able to attract private sector partners, and does not even have a website.

When it was started, the Prize was an innovation initiated by President Desmond Hoyte, one that was a remarkably progressive idea in economically trying times.  Today, it is no small irony that with the party of Hoyte exercising executive power, and as we stand at the cusp of unprecedented

wealth, the Prize seems to have disappeared.

A year and a half after the closure of the deadline for the 2017 Prize and no comprehensive reason being given why there has not been so much as a shortlist put forward is not good enough.  I know of at least one excellent young writer who submitted whose work was of sufficient quality to break my own record as the youngest person so far to win the Prize.  If this prize cycle is allowed to simply die, then the hopes of this person as well as other emerging writers who would have entered have been callously discarded. It cannot help being seen as an indictment of the administration regarding its treatment of artists, one that is completely avoidable and unnecessary.

The Guyana Prize for Literature is easily fixable.  It needs a comprehensive review of its operations, followed by urgent management reform and the infusion of new blood and new ideas in how to transform it into a mechanism than actually benefits individual writers and the literary arts environment as a whole.  This does not take Nobel Committee-level competence or resources to undertake, simply the political will and technical capacity to get it done.

Yours faithfully,

Ruel Johnson

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