Desmond Hoyte was ever fond of saying that the proof of the pudding was in the eating. Well, when it comes to the quality of local literary works, the proof of the pudding is indeed in the eating.
The jury is no longer out when it comes to quality of locally-based literary practitioners. The verdict has long been delivered. Just examine the awardees of the Guyana Prize for Literature since that prize was inaugurated by the late President.
The Guyana Prize for Literature has been dominated, almost exclusively by foreign- based Guyanese. Guyanese writing from a home-base in Guyana have rarely done well in these awards, have in fact been sparingly shortlisted, and this is perhaps the best empirical barometer about the quality of locally-based writers.
Whether this mediocrity is a result of laziness or simply a lack of ability would require further investigation but let us not bury our heads in the proverbial sand in the face of the available evidence about the overall quality of Guyanese-based writing.
Ironically, the Guyana Prize for literature was established not just to reward Guyanese writers but also to elevate the craft locally. It has failed to do the latter, just as how the millions wasted in the hosting of CARIFESTA a few years ago have failed to promote the development of the arts at home.
A new formula has to be found to improve the standard of literary works from Guyana-based writers. Berating and taking extreme umbrage over those who make perceptive observations, harsh as they may be- about the standard of local penmanship in Guyana will not reverse or improve the quality of the output from locally-based writers.
We have a vast world out there from which to learn from. The external world is no longer alien nor is it any longer an unknown and inaccessible landscape. It is because of technology and globalization within our sights and within our reach. This allows us to more easily learn from the many masters of the art of writing, including from the numerous writers from the Caribbean who have preferred exile in foreign lands rather than ply their trade in these parts.
There is no shame in acknowledging the deficiencies in local writing. In fact acknowledging the poor state of literary output from writers at home will allow for the spotlight to be cast on some of the questionable attempts that have been made to encourage the stock of local writers.
By now, it should be evident that the Guyana Prize for Literature has done little to improve the quality and volume of those who write from home. In fact it can now be forcibly argued that this prize should be disbanded and the money deployed using other means to encourage good writers at home, including through making use to the services of our writers in “exile” overseas.
Secondly, it should also be clear from the experience of other countries that instead of investing in the present crop of still- birth writers at home, greater attention should be paid to developing a new crop of literary connoisseurs, including that extremely talented young lady who at a very tender age produced a book which was published by the Caribbean Press and which was dubiously dubbed a modern day classic.
The very idea of a modern day classis is oxymoronic and it is unfortunate that such a budding talent should have had her initial work of writing overshadowed by the controversy over its publication.
That said, there are major issues to be addressed by the Caribbean Press, including just why it was established, especially in light of the existence of the Guyana Prize for Literature and the failure of Carifesta.
The media has not done its homework. It needs to ask some questions not just about the criteria for determining what works would be published but also where the physical printing of the books takes place.
As for the issue of Martin Carter not being published in the Guyana Classics, it would be interesting to find out who has copyright over Carter’s works and whether the family of Carter has given consent to previous publications of his work.
As Desmond Hoyte once said, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So is the taste of the pudding.
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