With uncertainty hanging over the fate of the Guyana Prize for Literature, Minister of Social Cohesion with the responsibility for Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr. George Norton plans to discuss the issue with Cabinet.
He also wants to have dialogue “with a cross section of persons,” including members of the Diaspora, journalists and writers, to discuss ways in which the prestigious award should be handled.
Norton had told Kaieteur News recently that he is checking on reports that the Guyana Prize “is not being run the way it should be.”
He had said that, “a lot of money was invested” in the Guyana Prize… and if we spend money behind a prize, we would have to ensure that we get value for our money.”
“I would want to take it (the issue) to Cabinet, because I am trying to be up to date with its status, particularly because of negative comments in the press about the Guyana Prize, coming from persons who were actively involved in the Guyana Prize,” the Minister said last week.
“It would be remiss of me not to try to verify if they are true or not. I need to have more dialogue with persons who were involved. The information I have gathered was not encouraging.
“I said before that it costs a lot of money and we need value for money.
“For some reason, I am not getting the information that I am seeking.
I would want the input of my colleagues, so I will have to take all necessary measures to get to the bottom of everything.”
The awarding of the Guyana Prize was postponed last year and Minister Norton was unable to say whether the awards will be postponed again this year.
“Even if that is the case, it would not be because we have not made a decision on the way forward. I hope shortly we would be in a position in which a decision is made.
“I would like to have dialogue with a cross-section of persons, including journalists and writers.
My personal view, and the policy of the administration is for it to have a positive impact, especially on youths.”
Reached by Kaieteur News yesterday, Secretary of the Guyana Prize Committee, Al Creighton declined to respond to Norton’s comments.
However, Creighton said that he “will continue communicating with the relevant officials and that he hopes that the awarding of the Guyana Prize will continue.”
Kaieteur News understands that data on the Guyana Prize is usually submitted to the Office of the President, and that this was done by the Committee.
LOCAL WRITERS WEIGH IN
Some local writers have also offered suggestions what they saw as shortcomings related to the award.
In a recent Sunday column, Subraj Singh, the second youngest writer to win the Guyana Prize, stated that, “THE Guyana Prize for Literature has finally been acknowledged as flawed and this is a good thing because now the authorities can put mechanisms in place that make the Prize stronger and better organised than it currently is.
“What absolutely should not be allowed and condoned is any plan of action that calls for the complete dissolution and end to the Guyana Prize for Literature. One hopes that this second course of action is far removed from the Department of Culture’s agenda and that a long-awaited assessment of the current state of the Prize and how to improve upon it is truly what is necessary for Guyana.
“Over the years, this Prize has long been one of the few signifiers of the various governments’ alleged interest in the creative sector and it has continuously marked the works and oeuvre of a number of Guyanese writers, helping them to be introduced to a wider audience (most notably the Guyanese audience itself) and carrying a financial reward that, in this day and age where the concept of the starving artist rings particularly true, is very significant in the artistic and literal survival of writers.
Many names that carry the weight of the Guyana Prize for Literature also carry the mantle of several other international recognitions and distinctions. Such writers include Wilson Harris, Martin Carter, David Dabydeen, Grace Nichols, John Agard, Pauline Melville, and Beryl Gilroy. The Guyana Prize is one of the literary connections that binds such a stellar group of writers together and offers them to the world.
Any changes that come to the Guyana Prize in the upcoming days must ensure that this solid literary legacy is maintained and any changes that come about should aim towards ensuring that the Prize continues to reward writers of great skill and literary prowess. The important questions are:
1) How do we find such writers?
2) How do we make such writers?
The great failing of both this government and the previous government is not being able to understand the role of literature-based initiatives and programmes that focus on the training of writers and the honing of skills – particularly when it comes to writers of poetry and fiction.”
Also speaking on the issue was writer and graphic artist, Barrington Braithwaite who observed, “When President Hoyte conceptualised the ‘Guyana Prize’ in 1987 as the foremost and only local literary competition, its purpose was to invite participation from accomplished Guyanese writers overseas to enter and upon winning, participate in workshops and meets with their local brethren to inspire participation and development, thus a resuscitation of such talents locally. I am not sure that any workshops were held, but I stand to be corrected. However, local talent did participate and won. There was talk then of a general assessment of published and self-published items that included magazines, comic books (the term graphic novel was not used then) anthologies and to encourage short story competitions and publications, (the Chronicle did encourage short story writing accompanied by artwork they supplied), journals and non-fiction material, to be able to develop a constant reading habit of homegrown literature and general reading matter for students and adults about Guyana. But that energy never materialised in that anticipated context. The divisive politics overshadowed the space to construct any progressive movement like a national dialogue on the importance of books and local publishing, with a cadre from one side and no response from the other.
“Former President Hoyte no doubt intended to circumvent the continuation of ignorance that held sway in the pre-independence era, where the self-loathing spectre that demanded a limited worldview and the preoccupation and contentment with conspicuous consumption rather than the substance of self-worth entangled our minds.
In the end, this symbol of literature, whether an effigy in the true sense, it is nevertheless a foundation with tremendous potential that can be transformed into much more than the facade of a competition, the current terms of practice does not serve what is demanded in this day. The evolution of the ‘Guyana Prize for Literature’ must be, whatever it must then be called, it must become with state corporation the platform of local publishing from these shores to wherever people read.”
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