Jul 28, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News– At occasional intervals since 2017, this newspaper has been publishing inquiries into the fate of the nation’s official literary awards, the Guyana Prize for Literature. The last award for the Guyana Prize was held in late 2015, in the early months of the Granger administration but the submissions for which were held in early 2015 under the Donald Ramotar administration. That last award saw the emergence of young, new winners such as Mosa Telford, who won that year’s prize for Drama, and Subraj Singh, who won the prize for Best First Book of Fiction, and marked his place as the second youngest winner of the prize. Singh would go on in 2017, with the Prize as a critical boost, to secure a place at the prestigious University of Iowa Fall Writing Program.
That year, 2017, was supposed to have been the next Guyana Prize for Literature, and a seminal once, marking the 30th anniversary of the Prize, which was founded by then President Desmond Hoyte in 1987. The Guyana Prize as an institution – however flawed – had the peculiar quality of being branded across political administrations; while it was the vision of PNC President Hoyte that started it, it was the commitment of successive PPP administrations that sustained it from 1992 to 2015, until a PNC President was once again in power. Additionally, in early 2017, submissions had been invited, and many young writers would have spent time, energy and scarce financial resources in entering their work for the awards.
One would have thought that the Granger administration would have – in the interest of national reconciliation, of genuine interest in the promotion of literary arts, or out of basic decency – not only continued the prize but used the anniversary to commit to enhancing it to better serve resident creative writers. Instead, the opposite happened – as 2017 came and went, and no shortlist was even announced from among the entries, it was clear that there would be no prize that year with no reason given by the administration on why this was so.
In 2018, increasing questions naturally started floating about what happened to the Prize, to no avail. The minister with the portfolio responsibility for Culture at the time, Dr. George Norton, when asked by this paper what had happened to the Prize, was clueless as usual, clearly unaware of whatever plans his higher power had for the national award. After committing to bringing the issue of the Guyana Prize to Cabinet in October of 2018, the Minister – who merely functioned as a Minister within the Ministry of the Presidency – went completely silent on what the result of the supposed Cabinet deliberation on the Prize was, or if it was even held at all.
We are now more than midway into 2021, the year that should have seen the third Guyana Prize since 2015 being given out, but there has been no prize since then. A national budget has been passed and it is unlikely that literature will warrant a place in the list of supplemental priorities that is focused on the oil and gas sector, the economic downturn, and tackling COVID-19. And yet, and yet, there is no sensible argument that can be made that the Guyana Prize cannot only be revived but also reformed and this means that, as we are nearing the end of the budget planning season, moneys need to be assigned for this next year, the 35th anniversary of the Prize.
So far, the current Minister of Culture, Charles Ramson, Jr., has been doing a more than commendable job when it comes to the patronage of creative talent, music and drama in particular. The National Drama Festival, which was also killed off under the Granger administration’s deconstruction of the creative arts, was revived in 2020 by Ramson and retooled for the COVID-19 era, under the theme “Dramatic Distancing: Theatre without Walls”. In addition to a series of virtual events, the recently concluded Guyana Talent Search was not only a platform for brilliant new performing arts talent but also served as widely, and wildly, popular public entertainment.
The one area that remains under-served in the relative renaissance that Ramson has brought to the Culture portfolio is the area of the literary arts, and the most glaring omission is the absence of even conversation on the Guyana Prize for Literature. The last administration, for whatever inscrutable and inept reason, deliberately and effectively buried a national institution – the new Minister has an opportunity to bring it back and make it better. Let’s hope it’s one he takes up.
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