Mr Haslyn Parris's story highlighted the absurdity of racial prejudice, Dr Mc Donald's novel captures the angst suffered by an individual and an era
Stabroek News
January 20, 2002

Dear Editor,

A letter published in Kaieteur News (16 January, 2002) written by an R. Sukraj vaguely accuses the Janus Young Writers' Guild and myself, as editor of the Guyana Christmas Annual 2001, of having an intelligence and a literary sensibility vastly superior to his/her own; and then goes on to harangue Dr. Ian McDonald for writing one of the better novels that have come out of the region.

Firstly, phrases like "very bad artificial language" happen to be, well, very bad artificial language. Of vastly greater importance is the implication that I, as editor of the Annual, would include any piece of work that treats any ethnic group [that comprises my ancestry] in a derogatory manner. While Sukraj queries the title of the short story and Dr. McDonald's praise of the excellent style that Mr. Parris chose to write it

in, he/she did not choose to elaborate on the most important part of the story: the content.

I received four excellent stories by W. Haslyn Parris sometime late last year, as submissions to the Guyana Christmas Annual 2001. Interestingly enough, Mr. Parris' submissions did not include his political resume. Each was hilarious in its own right, and warranted publication; the Annual is a vehicle for the exposure of as much as possible of the best new literary talent that the country has to offer therefore only one of Mr. Parris'

stories could be chosen. When I telephoned Mr. Parris and told him which story was selected he was interested in knowing why that particular piece was chosen. The reason that I gave Mr. Parris I now offer for the possible, though unlikely, enlightenment of R. Sukraj & Co. "Coolie Tom Puss" is an elegantly written piece of satirical prose that skilfully highlights a great many elements of our complex society, but focuses on, as its central theme, the issue of the absurdity of racial prejudice. Yes, Sukraj, any sort of racial prejudice, 'reactionary' or otherwise, is an absurd concept to some people. Without the title, this excellent piece of work is a textbook example of the use of irony in fiction; with the title, Coolie Tom Puss deserves any accolade that is placed upon it, especially from someone with the keen intelligence and intellectual honesty of Ian McDonald. Thus if Sukraj's query is to whether I find the story funny, apart from the underlying thematic seriousness, very much so; if the query concerns the absurdity of his ranting, apart from his unwarranted attacks on Dr. McDonald, very much so.

Someone once said that if a million monkeys pounded away at a million typewriters in a million years they would eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. You and your friends have only approximately nine months before the next Annual opens and closes the window of opportunity for

submissions, so I suggest that you start on your proposed submission right away. If it is that among yourselves you can come up with a story called "Nigger Jackass", as you suggested, that has half the insight and intelligence (I dare not place the additional burden of a sense of humour on you, Sukie) that Parris' story has, then I am sure any even reasonably intelligent editor would publish it. Frankly though, I don't recommend even a partial career in literature or literary criticism for you; judging from the diction, style (or lack thereof), and the clouded content of your letter, I envision a great many self publications, photocopying and letters to the editor as your only means of written public self expression.

As for Ian McDonald's The Hummingbird Tree; when you and your friends have finished infringing Dr. McDonald's intellectual property rights, I suggest you all do the uncowardly thing and, as opposed to basking in the non light of your own inferiority complexes, initiate some sort of public debate on the question of race in that novel. What McDonald's novel did was to validate and express the general psychic tension of Caribbean "white" people in an era of changing racial concepts in the region. Regardless of the historical juxtaposition of the races in post colonial societies like ours, no individual should be denied the right to express a genuine emotion using literature, autobiographical or otherwise; the colour of someone's skin should not provide the equation by which we measure the validity of that person's feeling. To write anything even vaguely autobiographical, Sukraj, is an act of extreme emotional courage and intellectual honesty; to recognise and confess to the prejudices that have been conditioned into us is always a monumental task. The Hummingbird Tree adequately captures the angst suffered by an individual and an era; as such its validity as one of the more useful pieces of Caribbean literature is beyond dispute.

The reason Dr. McDonald is honoured, Sukraj, whether it is an Arrow of Achievement for steering one of the region's oldest literary journals, or a certificate of achievement from the Janus Young Writers' Guild - is because he deserves it. Perhaps Kyk's last publication was so long ago because of the lack of expert help from literary geniuses such as yourself.

In closing, Dr. McDonald's article was right; literature is in a state here in Guyana. If you are going to criticise the Guyana Christmas Annual 2001, please do so with as much genuine literary insight as you can muster; try to come up with something more than "very bad artificial language". And try to actually buy a copy from a bookstore.

Yours faithfully,

Ruel Johnson,

Editor, The Guyana Christmas Annual 2001

Editor's note

Mr Sukhraj's letter was also published in yesterday's Stabroek News under the caption "Crude and contemptible".