Ninth Award of the Guyana Prize for Literature Arts On Sunday
By Al Creighton

Stabroek News
May 22, 2005

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In 2005 the Ninth Award of the Guyana Prize for Literature will take place during the week of Independence Anniversary celebrations in Guyana. The presentations to the winners for 2004 will be made tomorrow, Monday, May 23 at 6.30 pm in an event to be held at Le Meridien Pegasus. In keeping with the tradition, the President of Guyana is expected to present the awards to the winners.

Although this link with the period of Independence celebrations is not customary, it is a deliberate act, which took advantage of forced delays in January and February this year to make a significant and symbolic statement. There is a very pronounced association between the development of Guyana as an independent nation and the development of its literature. Guyanese drama, poetry and prose did not begin in 1966, but have certainly been factors in the country's growth since then, with the various writers reflecting contact with the changing political environment while making a sound contribution to the notion of nationhood.

The Guyana Prize event this year is therefore not just a celebration of the excellence that exists in the best Guyanese literature that emerged in 2004, but a recognition of the literature's contribution to national identity, the significant rise of the writing since Independence and the factor of the Guyana Prize in these developments.

The modern Guyanese writing that led into the contemporary developments had early beginnings at the turn of the century, moving into the first quarter of the twentieth century. This colonial literature had many strains and contributors including the imitative, the truly colonial and the independent. They all had a role in its growth even if some will argue that the independent spirit of the likes of Joseph Ruhoman, Ramcharitar Lalla and, especially, Norman Eustace Cameron, was more responsible for driving it. The pre-Independence, colonial writing, however, benefited from their legacy as well as that of Leo, Egbert Martin, Peter Ruhoman, WW Persaud, Sidney Martin and the emergence of such early novels as Lutchmee and Diloo written by an Englishman, and Weber's Those that Be in Bondage.

The great leap that took the literature into Independence in the 1960s was phenomenal since it saw the rise of work and writers that led the writing out of the period of 'colonial literature,' even though the country was still a colony. That was the nature and achievement of the likes of AJ Seymour, Jan Carew, Frank Pilgrim and, in particular, Edgar Mittelholzer, Martin Carter and Wilson Harris, who have been major contributers to Guyana's great post-colonial literature.

While cultural pride was an important motivator in the 1930s and 40s, nationalism was the main moving force in the sixties and seventies, and there were deliberate efforts to foster literary growth by agents which included the Department of Culture and New World. The broadcast of radio plays, the Theatre Guild, the fledgling University of Guyana, creative writing workshops and classes, serious writers' groups like the Annandale Writers Group out of which Rooplall Monar emerged, and another similar association that produced Jan Lowe Shinebourne. It was this same nationalism that eventually created the Guyana National Service whose overtures to culture as a means of national development sustained Rajkumari Singh and produced Mahadai Das. It also fed into larger events such as the famous conference of writers and artists in 1970 and Carifesta in 1972.

These, of course, had their direct effects on the post-Independence Guyanese literature. Most of the leading contemporary writers developed during this period and, like so many other West Indian writers, most of them emigrated. Migration, however, quite controversially, was a gain rather than a loss for Guyanese literature mainly because of the very important strides made by writers 'in exile.' Powerful communities of these artists in the Guyanese diaspora in the United Kingdom and Canada were formed and some of their members have been 'claimed' by their adopted countries. The more prominent of them have been responsible to a very great extent for the international march of the nation's literature and the place it now holds.

Similar claims may be made for the Guyana Prize. Most of these writers have entered their work and many of them have won. It has attracted much attention across the Caribbean, causing other countries to wonder why they have not established similar awards. Both Barbados and Trinidad have now taken steps in this direction and they have acknowledged that the Guyana Prize motivated and inspired them.

Every two years the prize exhibits and celebrates this writing through the publication of the shortlist and the award of prizes. The proceedings of the awards presentation tomorrow night will include readings of selections of the winning works, which is always an attraction at these events. Also of significance will be the acceptance speech delivered by one of the winners, while the major presentation and critical literary item will be the reading of the judges' report by the Chairman of the Jury Victor Ramraj.

But the presentation event has taken on another very helpful dimension over the past number of years with the addition of the exhibition of Guyana Prize Books. This will be on show tomorrow, mounted by the University of Guyana Library. It displays those works shortlisted for the 2004 Prize in all categories in addition to a sample of the winning works from previous years. The collection will be set up at Le Meridien before the beginning of the awards presentation but will move to other locations afterwards, including another venue in Georgetown, the university campus at Turkeyen and the UG Berbice campus at Tain on the Corentyne.

The 2004 judges' report and the announcement of the winners will be made by Dr Ramraj on behalf of his colleagues in the jury. MEMBERS OF THE JURY 2004 CHAIRMAN: Dr Victor Ramraj, Dept of English, University of Calgary, Canada; Editor of Ariel literary journal; author and critic; served as Judge, Commonwealth Writers Prize. MEMBERS: Dr Vibert Cambridge, Chairman of African Studies, University of Ohio, USA; Director of annual Guyana Festival in New York; researcher on Guyanese musicians; author and cultural critic. Mrs Ameena Gafoor, Founder and Editor of the Arts Journal; critic of literature and art; author on Guyanese writing and fine arts. Prof. Molara Ogundipe, Professor of Literature, University of Arkansas, USA; authority on women's literature and African literature; author and critic. Dr Gemma Robinson, Dept. of English, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK; authority on the life and work of Martin Carter; researcher and critic.