A storm is brewing in Guyana’s Caribbean Press. It has prompted its director, David Dabydeen, to write an angry letter to the editors of the Stabroek News. Links to the letters to which he is responding can be found below.
Mr Ruel Johnson can bark and snarl as much as he likes, but doggerel, much less ‘puppyrel,’ will not be published by the Caribbean Press. And, sorry to say, most of the poetry sent to me by resident Guyanese writers is doggerel or puppyrel. The Press can set up all the committees it likes and issue grand policy statements, but dross is dross is unpublishable dross. Mr Johnson talks his usual silliness about the Press’ closeness to Freedom House but the Press will be publishing the parliamentary speeches of all of Guyana’s presidents. He states that the Press has not published Martin Carter. It has. Another of Mr Johnson’s misrepresentations.
And why has Mr Johnson not submitted anything to the Press for consideration, though I have asked him many times? Is it because, deep down, he knows he has not written anything of quality for many years? Has any other Caribbean or Guyanese Press published his work? Although I found his dismissal of Wilson Harris to be arrogant and silly, I bought Ruel Johnson a laptop out of my own pocket, and sat with him for a couple of hours offering him detailed editorial advice on how to improve his writing. He has not produced anything of merit, out of laziness. I helped obtain a modest sum from Unesco to employ him as a workshop leader; he turned up late for his workshop and still has not written up the required report. Incompetence plus laziness. Nothing particular to Mr Johnson, since I can say the same for myself on a few occasions, except he has these traits in excess.
The Press will not publish lazy and incompetent work. Unfortunately Guyana at present only has a small handful of consistent writers of quality (I am thinking of creative writers like Rupert Roopnaraine and Paloma Mohammed). Hence in the 25 years of the Guyana Prize, only one resident Guyanese has ever won the Fiction Prize, and only two the First Book of Fiction. One resident Guyanese won the First Book of Poetry prize. Mr Johnson can bark and snarl at the judges (all distinguished writers /scholars from Guyana, the Caribbean, North America, Britain) but the fact remains that the writing coming out of Guyana, with notable exceptions, is poig-nantly poor. Of course the government will be barked and snarled at, but incompetence and laziness on the part of those who want to be published must be acknowledged, for the sake of honesty. Most of the submissions that come my way are not writing, but typing. It was a real struggle getting sufficient poetry for the forthcoming Anthology of Contemporary Guyanese Poetry (resident Guyanese), and in the end the Press had to go on the basis of promise rather than achievement. Fortunately, two, perhaps three, of the poets were good, so their work will carry the Anthology. Instead of making an effort to learn how to write (for example, by reading, re- reading and re-reading distinguished writers like Mittelholzer, Martin Carter, Sir Wilson Harris, and so many others), most of the Guyanese would-be or self-styled writers I encounter have read little. This includes Mr Barrington Braithwaite, whose only distinction is that he nearly shares a surname with one of the Caribbean’s best poets, the legendary Kamau Brathwaite. I would advise Mr Braithwaite to start reading Kamau’s Arrivants to see how it’s done.
To make books available free of cost to the people of Guyana, especially the young, the Press has reprinted the work of Mittelholzer, Wilson Harris, Denis Williams, Jan Carew and others. Of the 60 titles published or about to be published so far, an increasing amount is by winners of the Guyana Prize (Elly Niland, Maggie Harris, Mark McWatt, Ian McDonald, Cyril Dabydeen, David Dabydeen, Fred D’Aguiar) or by writers like Sasenaraine Persaud who has been shortlisted on every occasion for the Guyana Prize. They are in the ‘Classics’ series because they are modern Classics (eg, Penguin and other presses have modern Classics). The quality of the Caribbean Press speaks for itself: dozens of international scholars published, and some of the best creative writers produced by Guyana. That I have longstanding friendships with almost all the living writers (two of whom, happily, are family and Guyana prizewinners) has helped to get their permission to re-publish their works. Almost all the writers waive royalties and agree for 400 copies of their books to be given freely to Guyana’s libraries; an act of charity and a concern for the young readers in Guyana. Some have even put their work on the Press’s website for free downloading: http://www.caribbeanpress.org. So, again, Ruel Johnson is being devious in accusations of bias.
Finally, let me repeat my happiness in the historic publication of the first book by a Guyanese child, Ashley Anthony.
It showed such promise as well as true quality, and I hope other children, reading it, will be inspired to write. Ruel Johnson is consistently lacking in magnanimity in his criticisms of this young girl. What does it matter who her parents are? It is the quality of her writing that matters. It would be a crime to stifle young talent.
Once more, let me invite submissions as well as offers to help the Press in whatever capacity to d.dabydeen@ yahoo.com And please, someone, offer to replace me as soon as possible, so I can do my own writing (and please remember, if I can quote from Slave Song, that the wuk na get pay, is for a-we country). And, please, I hope Mr Johnson will reply to this letter since I enjoy jousting with him in print as much as I have enjoyed liming with him in disreputable bars whenever I am in Guyana.
Yours faithfully, David Dabydeen
You can see the letters hat occasioned the outburst here:
The real issue is how the Caribbean Press functions (May 20, 2013)