Jul 02, 2018 News
A debate on whether the format of the Guyana Prize gives writers in the Diaspora an edge over those who remain at home has escalated in the contentious issue concerning the country’s literary award.
Among those entering the debate is local poet Ras Aaron Blackman, whose collection of poetry ‘Revelation Pan Creation’ was submitted for the Guyana Prize in 1987.
In a letter in today’s edition, Aaron said that he noted “with consternation, comments made by (four-time winner) Mr. Harold Bascom in the Kaieteur News letter column…in which he denounces the efforts of the Honourable Minister Dr. George Norton to clean up the mess that has accumulated over the past three decades.
“Mr. Bascom was happy to join with those in control of the Prize to collect his large pieces of pie which he continues to long for, while we, the humble creative minds bent on building this land that belongs to us remain at home to paint the picture using our pens to guide our nation through the many ages, those of us who remain at home are better able to guide our young people by rubbing shoulders and staying in the trenches, those writers from the Diaspora can also contribute based on their experiences in the Diaspora,” Blackman contends.
“I wish to inform Mr. Bascom that Guyanese writers have continued to write to this day but do not enjoy the opportunities offered in the Diaspora. Much more needs to be done to encourage young writers, this is what the prize should address, our young noble writers need opportunities to excel, without copyright laws, the Guyana Prize for Literature will remain ineffective in pursuance of national development and those of us who remain at home will continue to earn the disrespect of some of those writing out of the Diaspora.”
But do writers in the Diaspora really have such an advantage? Not so, says Bascom.
‘DIASPORA WRITERS FACE MORE HARDSHIPS’
In a response sent to Kaieteur News, Bascom said, “It is not true that Guyanese writers ‘overseas’ have a leg up on local writers. The shocking fact may well turn out that the reverse is true. But the ‘better-opportunities’ charge levelled after a Guyana Prize wraps up with more overseas-Guyanese wins, pops us time after time. Again, it’s not true. What is true, is that the Guyanese writer in the Diaspora—be it the USA, Canada, or in Europe, stand to experience more hardships to be recognized as writers, and this translates into even greater difficulties getting published by a British or American publisher.”
According to Bascom, “The mere act of writing overseas is difficult for many Guyanese overseas who still consider themselves writers. Many in Guyana will not understand how hard it is for some people to work more than one job to make ends meet overseas, and to even find the time to write. As such, many who came here in the hope of continuing to write have given up on it. And there are overseas based writers who have been submitting literary works to the Guyana Prize and have not yet won a Guyana Prize. I know one poet who has been writing in Canada and has been submitting his work to the Guyana Prize for years and has not won yet.
“Most American publishers won’t touch what we (as Guyanese) write with a ten-foot pole. Why? Because American publishers are not interested in Guyanese stories. This is not what I ‘hear’. This is what had been told to me back in 1996 after I was afforded the opportunity to speak with a few editors from a few prestigious houses in Manhattan. One editor complimented me for my novel ‘APATA: The Story of a Reluctant Criminal’—published by Heinemann Educational Books back in 1986—and asked me what I was doing in America? She told me that as a Guyanese writer, my audience was in Guyana and not in America, and as such the publisher she represents would not think to accept a book by a Guyanese author. The fact is, there are few books by Guyanese and Caribbean authors published in the USA; very few! So, the so-called ‘opportunities’ that overseas based Guyanese writers have doesn’t exist—at least not for the likes of me and many others who just sit at home wherever we are ‘overseas’ and write for our lives with hardly any recognition.
Bascom, who has won four Guyana Prizes and one Caribbean Award for Literature, explained that he first won the Guyana Prize in 1994 for his play, TWO WRONGS.’
“ Where did I write it? In Guyana—in Hadfield Street, Lodge to be exact. In 1996, I won the Guyana Prize for the second time with the play MAKANTALI. Where was it written? Again, in Hadfield Street, Lodge. For both plays, the only opportunities I had were two-fold: The first, to get the time to write; the second: to have a few Guyanese buddies stopping-by to give me critiques along the way.
“Then I migrated to the USA and—just like I did in Guyana—sat in a room in Georgia and wrote a play entitled, BLANK DOCUMENT. But then, I didn’t have any of my Guyanese buddies to drop in and give me critiques. BLANK DOCUMENT was the third play that I won the Guyana Prize with. Then, while sitting in my home in Georgia, I came up with the idea about a play populated with dead Caribbean and Guyanese writers. And I did the same thing like I did with ‘TWO WRONGS’, ‘MAKANTALI’, and ‘BLANK DOCUMENTS’: I got critiques from Guyanese friends. I won the Guyana Prize for the fourth time with ‘DESPERATE FOR RELEVANCE’ And for it, I also won the Caribbean Award. I didn’t win four Guyana prizes because I had ‘overseas opportunities,’ I won them because I write hard and research hard and listen to critiques. I would have won them if I still lived in Guyana.”
Bascom contends, “When a Guyanese writer writes from overseas, he has no special advantages, I can tell you about that. In reality, the ONLY advantage I MAY have over a local writer, is that I have good Internet access, a laptop, and am able to research deep into anything I write about. So once the local writer has a computer and reliable internet connection, he/she can write on a level equal to mine. And before I forget, please know that EVERY play that I submitted and ever won, was submitted AS A BOUND MANUSCRIPT and not a printed book. And speaking of printed books, when you see them coming to Guyana from Guyanese writers overseas, bet yo’ bottom dollar, we self-publish the majority we-self.”
In a letter in Sunday’s Kaieteur News, Bascom had expressed concern for the apparent scant regard for the arts and local writers.
Directing his comments to Minister of Minister of Social Cohesion with responsibility for Culture, Youth and Sport Dr. George Norton, the multiple Guyana Prize winner had suggested that after every Guyana Prize; the winning play be produced and premiered at the National Cultural Centre; then toured in every part of Guyana, that the winning book is turned into a TV family drama, sold to Caribbean TV channels and that a publishing house be established to market prize-winning books and plays through CARICOM.
He also suggested that Norton “make it possible that prize-winning authors be remunerated to run meaningful workshops throughout the length and breadth of Guyana.”
Norton had told Kaieteur News that he planned 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.
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