My attention was brought to the letter published on July 9th 2018 in Stabroek News, written by Rev Gideon Cecil, titled: `Guyana Prize for Literature has not helped emerging writers living and writing here’.
As one of those very writers living in the diaspora, who entered a novel for the 2016 prize but in the meantime has given up on it, I would like to comment on one or two erroneous statements made in that letter.
The Rev Cecil states that “Writers living and writing in Guyana don’t have a publishing house here to help them get their works published. That is the reason the overseas-based Guyanese writers are winning the prize all the time because their books are properly edited and published by international publishers, and they have already won several international literary awards abroad.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Publishing is an international business, and publishers in the USA and the UK are hungry for books they can sell regardless of the nationality or location of the writer. A Guyanese living in Guyana has as much chance as one living in the USA to get a book
published: all she or he has to do is write a marketable book.
This, I admit, is difficult; the market is crowded and I’ve been told again and again that books set in Guyana are not commercial because readers — and this means readers in the USA and UK primarily — have usually not heard of Guyana and are apparently put off by this location. So, anyone who writes books set in Guyana will encounter this prejudice. I have myself run up against it for over a decade.
In fact, my first publisher, HarperCollins, rejected my fourth novel for that precise reason: it was set in Guyana. So did every other publisher and agent. — this was in the years 2004-2014. I was however determined to write historical fiction set in my beloved Guyana and simply kept writing in spite of rejection. So, you see, it is not that we just click our fingers and hey presto, a publisher pops up!
The only thing that has helped my writing career is perseverance, as with every book I became a better writer. Anyone can develop perseverance, whether you live in the UK or Guyana. The beautiful thing about writing is that it can be done anywhere. A writer living in Guyana has exactly the same opportunities as I did.
And yes, in the end I did find a publisher, a very small start-up (at the time) digital UK publisher. They take books from any writer based anywhere; they would have published me had I been living in Guyana, simply because they liked my books, and thought they could sell them.
It’s a wonderful outcome for me, because at last my books are in print. But it has been a very hard slog, so to see such a flippant dismissal of authors in the disapora is rather uncalled for.
If there is no funding for such a prize, so be it. I find it sad, as I remember my love of books when I was a child growing up in Georgetown; the
Public Free Library was my favourite building! But I realise that Guyana has
more important issues to deal with and literature possibly has to take a
back seat. I must I suppose content myself with the knowledge that through
my books readers who have never heard of Guyana before — now have!
I have been a judge for the annual THAG essay competitions from the beginning and I can categorically state that Guyanese students’ command of the written word is as good as, and in some cases better than, those living abroad. Creativity, the drive and talent to tell a story, is not determined by a person’s location. I know I would have been a novelist whether or not I had left Guyana, simply because I have always had stories to tell.
I don’t know whether or not the prize has helped emerging writers but I do know that it’s not their location that is holding them back from being good writers or finding a publisher.
My advice to local writers is to keep writing, hone your craft, tell your stories, research the market (you can do this online) and don’t ever think you can’t submit to foreign publishers. Because you can.