Arts On Sunday
Guyanese writing by whatever definition will date back to the early colonial period and may include the chronicles of colonizers, travellers, expatriate residents and the colonized. When the work of the colonized is considered, it must include oral literature, whose beginnings could then take it further back to ancient times undatable. However, very significant developments in modern Guyanese literature took place close to the turn of the century and in the very early twentieth century when intellectual movements among the former enslaved and indentured population began to generate important publications.
It was around that era that a few periodicals, papers and magazines emerged, followed by anthologies. The Guyana Annual started around that period and is distinguished by the fact that it still exists. Since its founding, however, its life has never been continuous. Its annual publication was several times broken; it ceased for years at a time only to reappear under different names, different publishers and supported by different benefactors. Going back in the history of the Annual, its succession of editors has included some very famous and distinguished names.
This magazine was published by and associated with the Chronicle newspaper for a very long time and the best known of its different names has been The Guyana Chronicle Christmas Annual. Its most recent rebirth was in 1998 with the help of one of its latest benefactors, Dr Tulsi Dyal Singh. The periodical has appeared consistently every year since then, changing names and editors over the period until its present title, The Guyana Annual. Over the same period it seems to have been deliberate that the editorship should rotate, but the policy, if there is one, is not stated, and the current editor is the very keen, interested and hard worker, Petamber Persaud.
Despite all these fluctuations, one thing that has been constant is the opportunity the Annual provides for new, emerging and untried writers to find an outlet, if not a measure, for their work. It continues to organize the Annual Open Short Story, Open Poetry, Youth Short Story and Youth Poetry Competitions, publishing all the winners in its pages. The 2005-2006 Guyana Annual also carries winners of 'The Henry Josiah Writing Short Story for Children' and what appears to be the Rajkumari Singh Poetry Competition.
This is by far the most valuable function of the Annual since the need for opportunities for locally based Guyanese writers to get work published or to bring their activities to public attention remains critical. That is why the efforts of Roopnandan Singh in the AGWA have been so highly valued and recognized. There is an even more critical need for these poems and stories, and for these writers, to have the benefit of good editing and evaluation. Publication in The Annual has not solved that problem. One can easily take issue with the quality of some of the winners published, and many of them are good candidates to be taken to workshops. But even those are non-existent. Some poems have the common fault of over-rhyming, while some of the Childrens' Stories are stories about children rather than stories for children as audience. Writers often do not appreciate that writing for children requires certain techniques not achieved simply by making children the central characters. But one can have absolutely no quarrel with the outlet provided by the Annual; a service that must be recognized as a necessary contribution to the development of Guyanese literature.
The Annual itself is a treasure in the context of local writing. Editor, publishers, supporters and all responsible for its continuance deserve congratulations, support and whatever will encourage them to continue. It would also be churlish not to congratulate the winners of the competitions. The fact that there are three prizes as well as a number of 'Honourable' and 'Special' mentions in each category means that a larger number of promising writers gets a chance to be published.
Yet the neglect of some necessary editorial information is again a minor omission in the Annual 2005-2006. The table of Contents does not list the authors of items. No information is provided about the Rajkumari Singh Poetry award as a competition; the Judges' Report for the Open and Youth competitions is brief and anonymous; there is no report for the Josiah and Singh awards and there seems to have been a decision not to reveal the identities of the judges. The Editorial is rather a personal testimony by the Editor as an individual, the Index of Past Issues is not really an index, and Petamber Persaud is the author of far too many of the pieces published. An editor often has an arduous task getting contributors to agree to write in the first place and then chasing them down sometimes in vain to get their submissions in time to go to press. It is not known whether that is why Mr Persaud had to write some five out of eight features.
There are nevertheless some interesting features. The History of the 'Public Free' Library would have made the National Trust proud, but it was done by the staff of the National Library. Pamela O'Toole writes On Wings of Words and Parbhudyal Singh provides a tribute to popular singer Slingshot. Persaud's brief, sweeping and incomplete Outlines of Guyanese Literature is a worthy attempt at a theme that properly demands a major research project.