The ninth awards for the Guyana Prize for Literature Arts On Sunday
By Al Creighton

Stabroek News
April 24, 2005

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The Guyana Prize for Literature 2004 will be awarded in May this year. It is the ninth award of the prize, which was established and first presented in 1987 for the encouragement of good Guyanese literature and as a celebration of the best of it. In keeping with that spirit, several of the best works in contemporary Guyanese literature have either won the prize or have appeared on the shortlists over the years of its existence. Similarly, most of the leading writers of Guyanese origin have added their often famous names to the list of prize-winners. At the same time, to lend the institution of the prize further justification, there has been a number of outstanding discoveries of excellent new writers who came to prominence as Guyana Prize Winners.

The Management Committee of the prize recently released the shortlists of books for 2004, as decided upon and submitted by the panel of judges. They read 38 entries: 18 Fiction, 17 Poetry and 3 plays, which included 11 First Books of Fiction and 11 First Books of Poetry. This year there are three unpublished manuscripts among the shortlisted items. That is not unusual, since it has happened more than once before and unpublished manuscripts have won the Best First Book Prize on two occasions.

What goes against the well-established trend this year is that there were more entries in fiction than in poetry. In addition, there was a reduction in the number and proportion of unpublished works entered.

As usual, five categories were judged: Best Book of Fiction, Best Book of Poetry, Drama, Best First Book of Fiction, and Best First Book of Poetry. There is no shortlist for First Book of Fiction because, although there was one book that stood out above all the rest, it fell just short of the strength required for the prize. Out of the plays entered, the jury felt that only one could make the shortlist, and since it has been declared the winner, no Drama shortlist was published.

The 2004 shortlist
Victor Ramraj

Fiction: (in alphabetical order)

Fred D'Aguiar, Bethany Bettany (Chatto & Windus); David Dabydeen, Our Lady of Demerara (Dido Press); Denise Harris, In Remembrance of Her (Peepal Tree); Jan Lowe Shinebourne, The Godmother and Other Stories (Peepal Tree)

Fiction (First Book): No work shortlisted

Poetry: (in alphabetical order)

Ian MacDonald, Between Silence and Silence (Peepal Tree); Elly Niland, In Retrospect (Dido Press); Berkley Semple, Lamplight Teller (WD Books).

Poetry (First Book): (in alphabetical order)

James Bond, Moods: Pages in the Light; Julie Hinds, Insight; Elly Niland, In Retrospect (Dido Press); Cecil Roopnarine, Upriver; Berkley Semple, Lamplight Teller (WD Books).

Drama: From among the plays entered only one work was selected for the shortlist. A winner has therefore been selected, but there is no shortlist.

However, although there was a reduction in the overall number of entries as against the higher numbers of previous years, there was no reduction in the quality of the best works chosen for the shortlist, according to the judges, who found much to praise. The following is what they had to say about the items.

Notes on the Books

Fiction shortlist

Fred D'Aguiar's Bethany Bettany

Employing multiple perspectives that in the author's skilled hands come together seamlessly, this poetic novel is likely to be ranked among the most intense Caribbean evocations of a young child's traumas in a world of adult cruelty. The author takes risks and challenges himself with daring forms - and succeeds.

David Dabydeen's Our Lady of Demerara

An endlessly intriguing novel that operates on many levels and heads off in many directions as it constructs Guyana's complex realities in the past and in today's postcolonial and postmodern world. This is not an easy read, demanding close attention from readers but amply rewarding them.

Denise Harris's In Remembrance of Her

An absorbing psychological thriller that holds the reader's attention not just as a "whodunit" but in its relentless probing of how and why. Set in Guyana, it intriguingly evokes the feel of place and people as it skips backward and forward in time.

Jan Lowe Shinebourne's The Godmother and Other Stories

Employing an impressively pared down, minimalist style, this rich collection of short stories has a Chekovian warmth and penetrating insights into everyday life. The irony is kind, mingling humour and sadness in the depiction of Guyanese at home and abroad.

Poetry Shortlist

Ian MacDonald's Between Silence and Silence

A skillfully conceived and executed collection of poems, profound in their astute poetic and philosophical analyses of individuals confronting the process of change and need for adaptation in personal and public situations.

Elly Niland's In Retrospect

An impressive first volume of measured poems that evoke strong but controlled feelings as they strive to come to grips with death and loss. Here is finely wrought poetry that is weighed down but at the same time enlivened by memories of family.

Berkley Semple's Lamplight Teller

Like Niland's In Retrospect, another first publication that impressed the judges enough for them to rank it as a legitimate contender for the general poetry prize. These are engagingly strong poems about the Caribbean diaspora that interrogates the meaning of home and the challenges of living abroad.

Poetry (First Book) shortlist

James Bond's Moods: Pages in the Light

Employing startling imagery and a range of subtle voices and tones, in its better poems this collection offers fresh perspectives on personal relationships and on contemporary social issues often with revealing historical references.

Julie Hinds's Insight

A collection of poems that offers strongly female perspectives and a variety of social and moral issues, using language with an arresting versatility in its better poems.

Elly Niland's In Retrospect

Cecil Roopnarine's Upriver

A substantial collection of moving and passionate, often philosophical, at times playful poems that interrogate issues of nationality, identity, and personal relationships

Berkley Semple's Lamplight Teller

Victor Ramraj (Chairman), Vibert Cambridge, Ameena Gafoor, Molara Ogundipe and Gemma Robinson served on the jury.