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Sunday, April 23, 2006

World Book and Copyright Day

Preserving our literary heritage

by Petamber Persaud
A FEW years ago, Guyanese, John Agard, wrote and performed the poem, BOOKS MAKE GOOD PETS, especially for World Book Day.

In that entertaining piece of exposition, the poet compared the usefulness of books against the costly upkeep of various pets by using apropos analogies, chorusing each verse with ‘Books make good pets/and don’t need/going to the vet’. The final stanza goes like this: ‘they’re as colourful as goldfish/in all their stillness/and believe me this is no whim/books can glow and swim/…in the bowl of your imagination’.

In 2006, Guyanese singer/composer, John ‘Slingshot’ Drepaul performed his song, PIRATES, to mark Guyana’s 36th anniversary as a Republic, firing another salvo at our ineffective copyright laws. The song ‘highlights the cancer that has taken hold of the recording as well as the visual and literary industry’. It’s another plea to all concerned to help stop this piracy of our intellectual property.

Together, these two prominent Guyanese have added new stimuli to World Book and Copyright Day. But that’s only a part of the contribution Guyanese are making to such a noble cause. In fact, if all be told, Guyana could lobby to be a World Book Capital in the near future. (For this year, 2006, World Book Capital is Turin, Italy.)

In 1995, World Book and Copyright Day was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). This move resulted from the deliberation of its General Conference, a move that would serve as a worldwide celebration of books, to promote reading, to encourage publishing and the protection of intellectual property through copyright.

The General Conference in a proclamation then, stated, ‘that historically books have been the most powerful factor in the dissemination of knowledge and the most accurate means of preserving it…and that all moves to promote their dissemination will serve not only greatly to enlighten all those who have access to them, but also to develop fuller collective awareness of cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire behaviour based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue’.

In 1966, long before that declaration, our own Guyanese Martin Carter, wrote an article titled, ‘Of Books and Citizens’, wherein he said, ‘The availability of books…makes it possible, at least, for the son of a sugar worker to acquaint himself with the thoughts and experiences of men and women in other times and other countries. And the opportunity to meet and talk and enter into debate which the community centres provide, serves to deepen understanding and sharpen criticism. The end result of these processes is the enrichment of the individual personality and ultimately, the enrichment of the community’.

The idea for World Book and Copyright Day has its origin in an interesting affair practiced in Spain. Some eight decades ago in Catalonia, a tradition started where on St. George’s Day, April 23, a rose is given as a gift for each book sold.

April 23 was adopted according to UNESCO because it was on that date in 1616 that Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega died.

April 23 is also associated with the birth or death of other well-known writers like Vladimir Nabokov, K. Laxness, Josep Pla, Murice Druon, and Manuel Mejia Vallejo.

Last year, the Director-General of UNESCO in his message to mark the occasion, cautioned us not to lose sight of ‘the key role played by translators, without whom intercultural dialogue through books would not be possible’.

That’s another example of how congenial is this project, shifting its parameter to accommodate all stakeholders in the book industry.

We in Guyana have started and are continuing a number of initiates in this respect. There is the National Library’s ongoing reading project, its ongoing compilation of a National Bibliography of all publications in Guyana, and the establishment of library branches throughout the country. The Varga Foundation’s ‘On The Wings of Words’, is another commendable reading project that also produces its own indigenous manuals. The Guyana Book Foundation’s annual book fair across the country is well orchestrated, sowing seeds of interest in books. Local book publishing by AGWA and by individuals is encouraging debate among our people and adding to the Guyanese bookshelf.

Magazines like the Guyana Review and The Guyana Annual are introducing new books to the locals. Newspapers are also playing their part by publishing book reviews and specialised columns like the ‘Literary Corner’ of the Sunday Chronicle, ‘Arts on Sunday’ in the Stabroek News and ‘Guyanese Literature Trivia Junction’ in the Sunday Kaieteur News.

My own television programmes, ‘Oral Tradition’ & ‘Between the Lines’, are ongoing adventures in literature and expositions in Guyanese Literature, staying abreast of what happening in the world of books. The National Art Gallery, Castellani House, is producing an ongoing series of literature events with the main objective of putting the joy back into reading. And there are many other events and individuals extolling the value of books and spreading the joy of reading.

As we celebrated World Book and Copyright Day this year, it would be useful to remember the words of A. J. Seymour expounding on the goodness of books: ‘turn these pages gently, dear, for in them lie precious things’.

UNESCO website
Editorial, Stabroek News March 11, 2003
Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email:

Guyana Chronicle

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