The necessity of a Guyanese national publishing house By Terence Roberts
Guyana Chronicle
November 17, 2002

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THE isolation by language of English, French and Dutch speaking nations on the South American coast and on Caribbean islands, presents a special problem for creative writers from such places. This isolation may seem like a minor problem in comparison to the multitude of economic and social problems which dominate the agenda of such nations, but the facility of a nationally focused publishing house, at least in Guyana, has the potential to substantially reduce many of our national problems.

All writers seek readers. This includes the non-fictional, the statistical, sociological, and the creative writer of novels, stories, poetry, critical essays, journalism, etc. However, in English, French, and Dutch South American nations, and Caribbean islands, all creative writers are severely handicapped by no proper local publications of their work in book form, and no access to a large regional readership. This publishing problem does not extend to governmental booklets, pamphlets, researches, speeches, etc., which are readily available from Ministries, National Printers, and even privately-owned printing presses.

But when we look at the area of creative and critical writing, we cannot help noticing that no cohesive local approach to publishing such as essential local material exists. No national publishing house exists to systematically provide such local works to a local readership first, at least. The publication of such creative works remain a private matter in which anyone can, with the right amount of money, publish anything (often of mediocre quality) without submitting to any coherent critical standard administered by the most widely read, knowledgeable and perceptive local minds attentive to the best creative literature.

There are serious historical reasons why such a situation exists for English-speaking writers from Guyana and the Caribbean. The most popular reason usually given locally is that the English-speaking population of the region is too small, and its readership even smaller. As a result, for decades upon decades, those local professionals seeking to be serious creative writers have been encouraged to go abroad to England, the USA or Canada, where the true publishers, and even readers, for their works are claimed to exist. The persistence of this opinion and attitude has, however, deprived local populations of a higher or more thoughtful and perceptive awareness of themselves as nationals, or simply human beings, while denying them this vital asset of national pride.

The question we should ask ourselves is why do we have such a specifically retarded development in this area? Do all ex-colonial nations have this `natural’ retardation? Do our immediate neighbours in Latin America and the Spanish speaking Caribbean islands possess this problem? The answer is a definite no. Local writers from such nations do not have to leave for Spain or North America, or Europe to become successful writers. In fact, the majority of today’s world-famous Latin American writers, and I should add with some of the most unconventional and avant-garde styles of writing, all had their novels and collections of poetry and critical essays, etc., first published at home in Latin America, specifically in renowned and highly successful publishing houses like Editorial Sudamericana of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Joaquim Mortiz of Mexico City, Livrarai Martins Editora of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Monte Avila of Caracas, Venezuela, among others.

Such South American publishers first published the highly regarded and popular works of unusual and locally flavoured original novels, poetry and essays by Argentines like Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar, Manuel Puig, etc; the Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez; the Chileans Pablo Neruda, Jose Donoso, Nicanor Parra; the Cubans, Alejo Carpentier, Severo Sarduy, Nicholas Guillen; the Mexicans Carlos Fuentes, Juan Rulfo, Octavio Paz, etc; The Brazilians, Jorge Amado, Antonio Galledo, Joao Guimaroes Rosa, etc. In addition, the novels and poetry collections of these Latin American writers were translated in English, French, Italian, German, Russian, etc., and were bought and read by millions of new readers worldwide.

The triumph of Latin America literature since mid-20th century occurred because such literature, by being published first by national publishers at home, did not have to compromise its local content or style for acceptance by foreign publishers. Their works, therefore, were able to preserve and maintain up-to-date local accounts for international readers. The same cannot be said for many Anglo-Caribbean writers living abroad.

This is a lesson that countries like Guyana still need to learn. Administrative and professional Guyanese who are truly committed to the balanced development of their country should understand that creative literature gives a respected and far deeper account of local realities than commercial tourist brochures aimed at foreign markets, and written in obviously seductive language. The lack therefore of a proper professional national publishing house, with great emphasis on local creative literature, is one reason why creative writers from the region continue to exist abroad. And one can hardly expect accurate, broad-minded, and exciting up-to-date creative accounts of life in Guyana from such writers who have long lost touch with local reality, unlike the local creative writers who mostly live and write in Latin America countries and islands, yet publish internationally.

What is therefore needed, in Guyana at least, is a small professionally run national publishing house which can become a resource base for translations into Spanish for Latin American publishers, and millions of readers there, and obviously the usual English-speaking publishers in the UK, the USA or Canada, who can reprint local works for readers overseas. Of definite profit is the urgent need for Spanish-speaking translators to pay attention to Guyanese literature, and for Guyanese students of Spanish and Portuguese to look into this area. British and North American translators of Latin American literature make a good living translating such works for respected New York and London publishers. In setting up a national publishing house in Guyana, the expertise of book printers in China and India would be a good asset, as they print lovely novels, poetry collections etc., over there. Books should be printed in uniform style, all of the same size, with minimum designs on their covers. It is the quality of writing inside that matters, not fancy, expensive covers.

Such a national endeavour could be the beginning of a whole new beneficial way we will see ourselves, and the world will see us.

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