In 2013 following my first entry in the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, I was contacted by a Mr Joe Byrde of the Commonwealth Foundation a short while after the winners had been announced. He asked me to resend my submission, followed by a series of questions ranging from my topic choice to how long it took me to write it. At first I was suspicious that he was a spammer, so I asked his reason for emailing me of all people and his response was “…it was made clear that we were getting very few entries from some Caribbean countries, especially Guyana, and that this corresponded with the general lack of publishing infrastructure and literary resources in the region. I would consequently like to take a closer look at some of the prize entries from your country (we only received 6) so as to make a better assessment of the writing currently coming out of Guyana.”
From that moment on, I vowed to make a submission to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize every year. It was no longer about winning; it was about representing my country while doing something that I absolutely love. For me, one couldn’t ask for a better victory. I felt that it was appropriate to share this information now, because I have not only finally begun to come into my own identity as a writer, but have decided that if I could pass on any bit of encouragement to my fellow Guyanese writers, now is the time.
I find it fitting that in my final year of my English Degree, one of my courses would be The Novel. Of course, since it was an elective, this deems it no coincidence. Still, I feel significantly more motivated towards my goal for 2016. This coming year, I will take my first steps toward becoming an author. A year ago, I was hit with a remarkable idea for my first novel and to date, though time and discipline have not permitted me to get further than the second chapter of my first draft, I must admit that my travels have certainly provided increased impetus towards a finished product.
In another 12 months, I will have a finished product. And thus begins my journey toward becoming a Guyanese Writer. I capitalize it, because this to me is something people in broader parts of the world should come to acknowledge as official. Mr Byrde was right, we are lacking in publishing facilities and literary resources, but that should not stop us from writing or being acknowledged for our work. As writers – of any nationality- we should make the conscious and laboured effort toward having our work read, even if only to contribute to the dying art itself. As Guyanese writers, we should work even harder in order to make worthwhile offerings to help catapult our neglected Arts industry to the heights it deserves.
We can start by doing little things. Writers need a community to help support and motivate each other; a place where we can submit our work for unbiased and well-meaning critique; a place where we can leave our egos and our touchiness regarding our work behind and realise that the world of writing is one which demands critique. Writers are often times blind to their own mistakes and since we ultimately write for our readers, we must see what they see. All this is to say that there is a lack of writers’ groups and workshops in Guyana. Perhaps it is due to the reasons cited previously, but I intend to change that.
Having been privileged to attend meetings with the likes of the Gotham Writers Workshop and the New York Writers Coalition, I believe that we can and should bring such experiences to Guyana. One of my added goals is to therefore form such an atmosphere where Guyanese writers can meet, share and receive feedback regarding their work- a move which I believe will help to encourage increased participation and recognition across the board so that entities like the Commonwealth Foundation should no longer have to worry about a startlingly low representation on our behalf. It is therefore my hope that in the near future, in order for any person- regardless of location- to “make a better assessment of the writing currently coming out of Guyana” they need not look very far to find it.
I do not write for awards or recognition, but for self-gratification and pure passion and love for writing. Guyana has many stories to tell; stories that should be heard around the world; stories with quality that far outshine the Fifty Shades of Greys that litter the modern Literary Hall of Fame. It is time that our writers tell them. I’ll start with me. Join me if you will.