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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Preserving our literary heritage

Preserving our literary heritage

Part One1945 – 1961
By Petamber Persaud

THE makers and custodians of Guyanese Literature were ever conscious of the need to preserve, to enhance and to promote our literary heritage, resulting in numerous literary periodicals gracing various stages of our history.

The makers and custodians of Guyanese Literature were also cognisant of the need to encourage emerging writers and to reward good writing.

What may be the first recorded call for a local literary prize can be found in the second issue of KYK-OVER-AL, June 1946.

The Honorary Secretary of the British Guiana Writers’ Association (BGWA), James W. Smith, at that time suggested the establishment of a literary award via The Leo Medal for poetry, The Webber Medal for fiction and The Clementi Medal for non-fiction and drama.

Of interest too was the call by the President of the BGWA, H. R. Harewood, for a Readers’ Association ‘as a sort of complementary body’ to the writers forum as if to support what Seymour said early in his first editorial of KYK, ‘there’s so much we can do as a people if we can get together more’. So it seemed that the shapers of KYK were catering for every aspect of local literature, a reflection of its success and longevity – 17 long years and 28 expansive issues.
This is by way of leading up to the objectives of KYK which were ‘to forge a Guyanese people, and make them conscious of their intellectual and spiritual possibilities’ and to record ‘the ferment of cultural activity in the West Indies and its impact and influence on life in Guyana’.
To see those objectives more clearly it would be useful to locate KYK in its Caribbean context.
After the Second World War that affected the British dependences in the West Indies, there was a fermentation of a West Indian literature. That movement was given direction by ‘the little review’, a title covering the periodicals of the time including BIM of Barbados edited by Frank Collymore and FOCUS of Jamaica edited by Edna Manley. ‘The little review’ was also labelled the ‘nursery of literature’ for the West Indies. KYK is the only surviving magazine of that period. And there are many reasons for its survival.

One of those reasons could be found in the quality and dedication of the people involved in the production. KYK was published in conjunction with the BGWA, British Guiana Union of Cultural Clubs (BGUCC) and the DFP Advertising Service. Not much is known of DFP and its obvious role in the production of the journal except that it was managed by J. E. Humphrey.
The two other organisations were powerhouses in the development of literature and culture. The BGUCC was formed in 1943 as an umbrella body to some 40 clubs from various parts of the country and consisted of a number of well-respected members of society including N. E. Cameron (President), Mildred Mansfield, C. I. Drayton, A. J. Seymour, E. A. Q. Potter, and Esme Cendrecourt, among others.

The BGWA founded just after the BGUCC was formed consisted of members like H. R. Harewood (President), W. I. Gomes, Seymour, among others. KYK-OVER-AL was established as the organ of the BGWA and mouthpiece of the BGUCC which were very active in cultural spheres of Guyana.

Another reason for the survival of the journal was that it functioned as an outlet and platform for West Indian literature. This can be seen with the publications of the works of Roger Mais, Edward Brathwaite, Aime Cesaire, Frank Collymore, George Lamming, Una Marson, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Philip Sherlock, Derek Walcott, and Harold Telemaque, among others. Within this section will fall the invaluable articles on West Indian literature by Seymour like ‘The Literary Adventure of the West Indies’, ‘The West Indies of the Future and the Writer’ and the ‘KYK-OVER-AL: Anthology of West Indian Poetry’.

The editor and the editorial advisory committee (another positive move) which included Lloyd Searwar and others experimented with various aspects of magazine production. For instance, in reference to timing, the release date was brought forward to ‘less competitive’ months, in reference to size, it was reduced ‘for pockets and sachets’, and the book review section was expanded to include review of art, film and drama.

Seymour also credited his wife, Elma, for her enormous help in advertisement and marketing. Elma was a tower of strength and support to Seymour in his literary and cultural endeavours.
Despite some criticism levelled against the magazine’s lack of critical analysis, the strength of KYK was found in its scope and range in its recording role, publishing some 500 poems, 400 articles, a few short stories, symposia and colloquia, and scores of book reviews.

In poetry, adding to the above list of West Indian poets, is the local impact coming from the pen of Martin Carter, Wilson Harris, Jacqueline De Weever, Edgar Mittelholzer, Edwina Melville, Ian McDonald, Ivan Van Sertima, Milton Williams, among others.

In the field of fiction, there are samplings from Basil Balgobin, J. A. V. Bourne, Jan Carew, Eugene Bartrum, Sheik Sadeek, among others.

While there are only three plays in the 28 issues of the magazine, the articles on drama by N.E. Cameron, Rajkumari Singh, Ruby Samlalsingh, Frank Thomasson, and Sara Veecook are very valuable.

KYK-OVER-AL (see over all), the magazine, was named after the ruined Dutch fort of the same name on a small island near the confluence of the Essequibo, Mazaruni, and Cuyuni Rivers as a watchtower for ‘the expression of an alert people’. KYK went to sleep in 1961 but so good was its intent and so valuable its impact, it was revived in 1984 under the editorship of Seymour and Ian McDonald, moving to newer levels of scholarship.

(Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: Literature Update:1. THE GUYANA ANNUAL 2006/2007 is under production; for further information please contact the editor at telephone number and email address listed above.

2. Under preparation by this author is A HANDBOOK OF GUYANESE LITERATURE. Information supplied on any aspect of our literature will be duly acknowledged

(Guyana Chronicle)

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