– seeks forum to discuss changes
Suggesting that there may have been “some conflict of interest” in the Guyana Prize Awards, Minister responsible for Culture, Youth and Sport Dr. George Norton is seeking a forum to discuss improvements to the handling of the prestigious award.
“There were some regulations that some were criticizing…the evidence was there and the facts were there, and there may be a conflict of interest of persons who were involved. We want to get rid of that, but have the Guyana Prize remain as high a quality as possible,” Norton told Kaieteur News last week.
Norton noted that the Guyana Prize has been around “since Mr. Hoyte’s time,” Norton also said that individuals such as St. Lucian Nobel Prize for Literature winner Derek Walcott have commended Guyana for honouring its writers in this manner.
“ I remember Walcott praising Guyana and chastising other countries, including his, for not doing the same.
“What is without a doubt is that such a prestigious prize should not be allowed to fall away, and as Minister responsible for Culture, I would want everything possible for that Prize to be as it is.
“But for a very long while the governance of it, who was in control, and in charge, has not changed…and it’s my opinion that an objective evaluation should be done of the whole process.”
He says he will be seeking to have discussions with experts from Canada, Germany and Guyana who have not been involved in the Prize” and see, at the end of the day, what decisions they come up with, “and make recommendations to Cabinet.
“We want to provide a forum where all ideas taken and then we can come to a conclusion.”
Asked if this means that he is seeking changes to the Guyana Prize Committee, Norton said he is “not going so far as yet.”
“I would want to give those persons the opportunity to contribute, to let it (the Guyana Prize) remain at the level it once was. We want to give everyone an opportunity. It must be done in a structured way.”
The Minister of Culture acknowledged that Secretary of the Guyana Prize Committee Al Creighton had indicated that the awards, postponed last year, would be given out this year.
This deadline now appears to be in doubt, the Minister said.
“It was due sometime last year, and while I was given the assurance that it will be completed before the end of the year, I am not so certain that it will be.”
The Guyana Prize has been at the centre of a sometimes contentious debate between local and overseas-based writers and Guyana Prize Committee Al Creighton.
Some have suggested that there was conflict of interest in having individuals who had been awarded the Guyana Prize sit as judges.
One writer suggested that former winners, and writers from the Diaspora, including the Caribbean, had an edge on local writers.
He felt that local writers should compete in a separate category from these “expert writers” and the Guyana Prize Committee be scrapped.
Yet another local writer contended that writers in the Diaspora had distinct advantages over those who remained in Guyana. That writer suggested that the Prize was awarded to a small group of individuals and overseas-based writers.
Responding to these suggestions, four-time Guyana Prize winner Harold Bascom said that “what is true, is that the Guyanese writer in the Diaspora—be it the USA, Canada, or in Europe, stands 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.
“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.”
In a recent letter, two-time Guyana Prize winner Ruel Johnson contended that “nothing significant has changed for the better with regard to the most important role the Prize should play, the development of emerging writers in Guyana.
“Outside of this, there has been no meaningful innovation in the management of the Prize in its thirty plus years of existence. The comparable BOCAS award in Trinidad for example has been able to expand, in less than a decade, beyond the basic literary prize component to a span of activities stretching over months and ending in the weeklong Bocas Lit Fest, featuring performances, lectures, seminars, workshops, readings and complementary competitions including spoken word. The Guyana Prize after thirty years does not have a structured workshop programme, has not been able to attract private sector partners, and does not even have a website.”
CRIEGHTON DEFENDS COMMITTEE
Defending the Committee, Secretary Al Creighton stated that “the Prize Awards have always been meant to go to the best of the nation’s literature, and the harsh reality has been that since the 1950s the vast majority of practicing and professional writers left the country, most of them settling overseas.
This meant that the bulk of the best Guyanese literature was being produced in the UK, Canada and the USA. It should not be surprising that that is where most of the winners have been.
In spite of that reality, it is plainly not true that there was a bias towards those writers “in exile” and a neglect of local residents.
Contrary to what has been peddled there have been outstanding cases of local writers, most of them with unpublished manuscripts, defeating well known names who have been established overseas.”
“Among that significant list of Guyana Prize winners are works which were entered as unpublished manuscripts. They had to compete against published books entered by publishers from abroad. It has been a consistent policy of the juries that these manuscripts had to be of publishable quality to be awarded a Prize. It ought to be obvious by now that the Guyana Prize created opportunities for local writers who were previously unknown to gain recognition and to emerge.
“Surely the Prize has helped to create an environment in which a number of local developing writers are motivated to write and to improve.”
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