There is little doubt that independence in 1966 has had a significant role in the shaping and development of Guyanese literature, theatre and the arts. In some ways these developments were the normal trends that would have been already on the march in the developing society of the 1960s even before Independence Day. Some of them had already been taking shape and were even already well established outside the country, particularly in the metropolis where British Guianese literature was a part of the strong Caribbean voices that began to make an impact in the fifties. However, the attainment of political independence was a definite factor in the determination of what took place in the literature and the arts of the new nation.
Without a doubt the spirit of independence, a sense of nationhood or consciousness of its necessary attainment, a deeper interest in national and cultural heritage along with a potent and growing nationalism played their part in the emerging fiction, poetry, drama, dance, music and cultural forms. Some of these were planned and directed by the state as a part of national development, others were the natural preoccupations of artists who could not but be influenced by the cultural, political and social forces that would have radiated around and out of the independence spirit.
By 1966 the giants of Guyanese literature such as Wilson Harris, Martin Carter, Jan Carew, were already established or on the path to international recognition, following their illustrious predecessor Edgar Mittelholzer and the pioneering work of A.J. Seymour and N.E.Cameron. Much of this was taking place outside Guyana as a part of the fabled factor of "exile", and this included prominent painters like Aubrey Williams and Denis Williams. But the political undercurrents inside the country were also exerting their pressure. The politics of the times, polluted by the tactically exploited and subversively fanned flames of racial civil war did not immediately give rise to a great literature outside the work of the most outstanding poet, Carter, whose output remains the most significant literature of that period.
Apart from Carter, many other writers of fiction and drama revisited those issues in the late 1980s and the 1990s, making them important themes only in the later literature.
The significant sense of nationalism had, naturally, been building up before, but it surely accelerated in the post-independence period. It was accompanied by the work and influence of a mixture of private, informal, unofficial, public, official and formal institutions and movements. These included the Theatre Guild, the New World group, the private discussion groups famous for their poets, activists and rum, Woodbine House and the Woodbine "Yard". Many of the most outstanding dramatists, theatre practitioners, actors, dancers, painters and writers came out of these institutions or were associated with them. Among these were artist Stanley Greaves, playwrights Frank Pilgrim, Francis Farrier, Sheik Sadiek, dancers Helen Taitt and Robert Narain.
This period ushered in a crossover from the colonial theatre and the arts, which were led predominantly by expatriates to a greater local focus. This was accompanied by another rise in consciousness, which was less ethnic and more national than similar intellectual movements of earlier colonial times. The concerns were driven by the newest sentiments of nationhood, and a deepened interest in Guyanese heritage and identity. The adoption of Republican status in 1970 only served to intensify and further entrench these, with one of the best known Guyanese plays, Michael Gilkes' Couvade, being an outstanding example of artistic work arising out of the spirit of that period. Similarly, the consciousness and sensitivity to national identity in the work of painter and sculptor Philip Moore gained considerable ground.
It was also a period when a number of institutions were created and sponsored by the state in a deliberate effort to influence artistic development, and in some cases, even where they had other motivation, did play a part in or have an effect on the emerging work. These included the National History and Arts Council, later to become the Department of Culture, responsible for the creation of Guyfesta and a vehicle for many other initiatives in music, dance, theatre, and the running of workshops for writers. This department's publication of Kaie, including a special independence issue, certainly made a small contribution to the advance of national literature locally.
The same fervour associated with republicanism also gave impetus to other developments initiated by the government, including a large conference of regional artists, writers and musicians that was a forerunner to the inspired creation of Carifesta, also by the Guyana government. No greater fillip than Carifesta was needed for additional development in the arts. Out of the same wave came the founding of the Burrowes School of Art, the National School of Dance and the National Dance Company. Additionally, while the Guyana National Service fell into disrepute and did not exactly distinguish itself, it was also a creation out of this movement. Really, it was a very good idea before it became misused, and made its own significant contribution to the arts, not least of which was the rise of the poet, Mahadai Das.
It is difficult to say what date should be regarded as the end of the post-Independence period or when the direct influence of the particulars of that period upon the development of Guyanese literature and arts might have ended. It is more likely that they never ended; but what is even more difficult is to generalize about them after the seventies. What happened then certainly cleared paths for the march of the artistic products in the years that followed. Going into the eighties, other factors such as the rebirth of Kyk-Over-Al, the founding of the Guyana Prize for Literature, the founding of the Assoc-iation of Guyanese Writers and Artists, of the National Academy of the Performing Arts (NAPA), the introduction of the GUYSUCO Head Office Drama Group, and even the series of Forbes Burnham Birthday dramatic productions all have their varying degrees of importance in the process.
The momentum also continued outside state sponsorship through other media including national radio, which carried several series of radio plays and short stories. These enhanced local literature concerned with the same themes inspired by independence, republicanism and nationalism. These concerned history, heritage, post-colonialism and tradition. There was further complementary support from another organ, the Chronicle Christmas Annual, ever an opportunity for fledgling writers, while much development also came from private workshop collectives like the Annandale Writers Group, producer of Rooplall Monar, and another body out of the University of Guyana from which Jan Lowe Shine-bourne emerged.
The role played by these factors in the indigenizing of the literature and theatre cannot be down-played, and this indigenizing was very important in the growth of the arts as driven by independence. Despite the continuance of foreign plays for several years, the activities of the Theatre Guild were fundamental to the eventual rise of Guyanese theatre treating social realities and the popular culture. This was accelerated by the opening of the National Cultural Centre, while other doors were opened by the GUYSUCO Sugar Estates Drama competitions.
The Guyana Prize extended its outcomes to the international community as well, since it played a part in the progress of some of the most outstanding post-independence writers, namely Fred D'Aguiar and David Dabydeen. With these two as major players, Guyanese literature in the Diaspora grew to be a considerable force in world literature with a marked impact in Canada and the UK, developing in as many directions as the several streams in the land of many waters.