The Guyanese Novel…what of it?
- By Petamber Persaud
The statement by critic Lee Siegel that the American novel is dead drew me into the debate.
The upshot to me was more or less a wakeup call. People are writing, novels are being written; I know, I hear many stories of novels being written locally, manuscripts will cross my desk now and again. Getting (a novel) published is still a challenge.
I have written three novels, all unpublished. One of the three, Overtures, set in 1838 British Guiana, when the (freed) Africans and (indentured) Indians faced off for the first time in this land, was endorsed by Eusi Kwayana who worked painstakingly on it to shape it up. Kwayana also made overtures to a publisher on my behalf – that much he thought of the book.
Getting that manuscript in book form is an inspiring story (there are many stories surrounding the writing of that novel and the attempts to get it published).
A bundle of help came from Salem Nausrudeen who opened his home to me, allowing me use of his computer and printer, and who toiled long night after long night to get the book into the computer and get it out again, prepared for submission to publishing houses.
That statement by Siegel about the American novel also set me thinking about the Guyanese novel and current trend in Guyanese literature. Is the Guyanese novel dead? Straightway I answered with an emphatic, ‘no’.
That this infant of Guyanese literature was in any sort of dilemma never crossed my mind. Started in the 1940s, the Guyanese novel is still in its developing stages. No, the Guyanese novel is not dead nor is it dying.
Having said that, I started looking for evidence that the Guyanese novel is still alive…and kicking. The first half of 2010 – nothing, forgive me if your novel did not come to my attention.
The…whole…of… 2009 – nil. Retracing my search, I may have missed something. And bingo – Eating Air by Pauline Melville, Telegram Books, 2009! How could I have forgotten that, my memory must be going bad, got to be careful – Melville was here in Guyana to promote that novel, when she reluctantly agreed to have her photograph taken by me. Not bad, one novel for the whole of 2009.
Not bad, that one novel is by a woman writer; in fact, that’s very good news. Guyanese women novelists are holding their own against their male counterparts since the 1980s when they eventually came to the fore.
Turning to 2008 which I hoped was a better year for the Guyanese novel. Turn, turn, turn…until I came across Molly and the Muslim Stick by David Dabydeen published by Macmillan; Dabydeen’s sixth novel and counting…. Yet another novel from Guyanese in the Diaspora. This sixth novel has made Dabydeen the most prolific of contemporary Guyanese novelists after Wilson Harris.
Wilson Harris states that The Ghost of Memory is his last novel; this was published by the novelist’s longstanding publishers, Faber & Faber, in 2006. Harris’s novel writing career started in 1960 with the publication of his first novel, Palace of the Peacock. Harris was one of the few writers to have sustained the Guyanese novel.
Harris was to write some twenty-three novels in a period of five decades. Edgar Mittelholzer also made significant contributions to the novel, a tradition which he started in the 1940s and helped to sustain into the 1960s when he committed suicide; his contribution was twenty-three novels.
One novel was published in 2007; that novel, The Hangman’s Game, by Karen King-Aribisala, Peepal Tree Press. This book won the Commonwealth Prize for Best Book in the African region.
At this point, 2007, my enthusiasm waned. So I decided to look at how the Guyanese novel fared in the new millennium, the first decade of the new millennium as a sort of broad category. From 2000 to 2006, there were some sixteen novels published, six of which were written by women writers.
After that reckoning, my enthusiasm was rekindled. It would be remiss of me not to give due credit to those writers so I constrained myself here to list those novels and other bibliographical data.
The Ghost of Memory by Wilson Harris. Faber & Faber
Calabash Parkway by Brenda Chester DoHarris. Tantaria Press
A Silent Life by Ryhaan Shah. Peepal Tree Press
Drums of my Flesh by Cyril Dabydeen. TSAR
This Body by Tessa McWatt.
Our Lady of Demerara by David Dabydeen. Dido Press
In Remembrance of Her by Denise Harris. Peepal Tree Press
The Speech of Angels by Sharon Maas
Divine Elemental by Raywat Deonandan. TSAR
Bethany Bettany by Fred D’Aguiar. Chatto & Windus
The Mask of the Beggar by Wilson Harris
Game of Kassaku, by Churanmani Bissundyal. Geica, New York
The Timehrian by Andrew Jefferson-Miles. Peepal Tree Press
Pecocks Dancing by Sharon Maas
Hendree’s Cure by Moses Nagamootoo
The Dark Jester by Wilson Harris
And my pronouncement on the Guyanese novel – that will come after a further exploration on the subject.
Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: email@example.com
· The Guyana Annual 2010 issue is now available at Guyenterprise Ltd. on Lance Gibbs and Irving Streets, Queenstown
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