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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Expression 1966 - 1970

Preserving our literary heritage

By Petamber Persaud

ALMOST all of the major players in the production of the literary magazine, EXPRESSION, have gone on to make significant contribution to literature both in the land of their birth and in places of their adopted homes. The pioneering spirit of those new voices, the commitment to the art of writing and the determination to market their material had had to pay dividends sooner or later.

N. D. Williams has so far published four books of fiction; Jan Lowe Shinebourne three books of fiction; Mark McWatt three books – two poetry and one fiction; Brian Chan three collections of poetry; and John Agard more than a score of books mostly children’s literature.

Four of those writers have won the Guyana Prize for Literature, namely Agard, Shinebourne, Chan and McWatt. Shinebourne holds the distinction of the first woman writer to win The Guyana Prize.

Agard and McWatt have won international literary prizes; the latter recently won the Commonwealth Prize for Fiction and the former Casa de las Americas and Paul Hamlyn Award for Poetry.

EXPRESSION, according to its editorial policy, was ‘an independent literacy magazine, designed to encourage and expose creative writing’.

Launched in 1966, EXPRESSION, was avant-garde in many ways. 1966 was the year Guyana achieved its Independence from colonial British rule. So EXPRESSION fell into that category of post-colonial literature, a brand of literature that was already in the making since the early 1960s. What the magazine did then was to concretise the dialogue in which the society was engaged. So the magazine was launched to encourage writers to find new ways in expressing their feelings in relation to new developments in Guyana. Supporting that claim was Victor Ramraj, now Professor of English at the University of Calgary, in his introduction to the magazine when he said that ‘this is the time for experimenting with a variety of forms’.

An avant-garde magazine couldn’t have started in a better way and at a more opportune time in the history of our literature. It was started for and by teachers and students of the better-known secondary schools in Georgetown at the time including St. Stanislaus College, Queen’s College, Bishop’s High School and Central High – the hotbed of ideas. The final issue published in 1970 came from the student voice of a tertiary institution, the University of Guyana.

The first issue of the magazine was edited by a VSO Brian Cotton and N. D. Williams who were greatly assisted by Milton Drepaul. That issue featured the works of Agard, McWatt, Chan, Terence Roberts, Dereck Chan-a-Sue, John Rickford, D.M.A. Bernard, Ronald DeAbreu, Michael K. Ajodhia and Cynthia Barclay.

In 1967, the second issue of the magazine came out under the editorship of Williams and Drepaul.

Another mark of this particular avant-garde periodical was in the naming of its third issue which was labelled EXPRESSION 31/2. Rotating of the editorial ship helped to spawn new approaches to a risky part of book publishing – marketing. (The magazine was priced at twenty-five cents per copy.) Additionally, this issue was experimental in that it ambitiously set out to test the waters in an attempt to move away from it original position of an annual.

Although it was a slim publication, by its fourth issue, EXPRESSION made allowance for short fiction, featuring three pieces by Agard, Roberts and Janice Lowe (name used then).

There was a sixth issue but there seemed to be no evidence of a fifth. That final issue came out in 1970 under the editorship of Janice Lowe while she was attending the University of Guyana. Andrew Salkey in his GEORGETOWN JOURNAL admired the fact that the editor was selling EXPRESSION in the byways and highways – that’s how he was induced to buy a copy of the magazine.

It is contended that that final issue gave birth to PLEXUS, ‘a new magazine of young writing’ edited by Rose McAndrew. There was other avant-garde literature at the time including the NEW WORLD journal.

The birth of EXPRESSION came out of the literary climate of the period. The many bookstores were well stocked with affordable literature especially Penguin Books and ‘Evergreen’ reviews of books. Householders started to sport and boast bookshelves and even small libraries; children were growing up surrounded by books. Culturally the society was exploding. Contributing writers of EXPRESSION were influenced the works of foreign writers especially the French, the film culture and the music of the day. Libraries were (pro)active part of society especially the British Council Library that made available to the group typewriters and duplicating machine. Ron Savory of the above institution supported the production of the magazine.

EXPRESSION is no more but the writers it spawned have broken new grounds in their literary development and are still making significant contribution to literature.

* Interview with Terence Roberts, February 13, 2005, Georgetown, Guyana


* David Granger & Nigel Westmaas. GUYANESE PERIODICALS

* Available copies of EXPRESSION

Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email:

Guyana Chronicle

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