Preserving our literary heritage: Janice Lowe Shinebourne An Enabling Literary Culture


(The following is an extract of an interview with Janice Lowe Shinebourne that was done in Georgetown, Guyana in February 2013.  Shinebourne has won The Guyana Prize for Literature in the category ‘best first book of fiction’. Recently, she was in Guyana conducting workshop sessions on fiction under the auspices of The Guyana Prize.)   PP  –    Guyanese Literature is a relatively young literature that is constantly renewing and enhancing itself every day, and as such we need to take, periodically, checks as the literature develops. Janice, your first novel, ‘Timepiece’ won the Guyana Prize for Literature in its inaugural year 1987. What has happened to Janice Lowe Shinebourne since then.

** JLS  –    A lot.
** PP –     Like…
** JLS –    Well, I’ve published a second novel after that and then a collection of stories.
** PP – The second novel was ‘The Last English Plantation’
** JLS –    The third book was ‘The Godmother and other stories’. Then jumping several years, I published a third novel, ‘Chinese Women’. I am now writing my fourth novel which I will give you a preview of – it is called ‘the last ship’. I have completed the final draft and hoping to make it ready for publication soon.
** PP    – Most of your writing is set in Guyana.
** JLS –    In fact, all of my novels are set in Guyana. Some of the stories in the collection are set in England.
** PP –     Let’s go back to your first novel and The Prize – you are also the first woman writer to have won The Prize, a significant recognition, wouldn’t you say.
** JLS  –     Well, I guess so but what I was honoured by was the fact that I have won The Prize and recognised by my own country. That was my greatest honour.
** PP     – But in my field, in my research and evaluation that was a significant first. I’ll tell you why I pushing this line of thought because later we will discuss women writers who took a long time to surface as a writing force, hampered by numerous factors.
Let’s now locate Janice Lowe Shinebourne – you were born in Rose Hall, Canje, Berbice, attended Berbice High School and University of Guyana. You have worked as a reporter in Georgetown before migrating to the UK in 1970.
While in Guyana, you interacted with a group of writers and you were a part of a literary magazine, ‘Expression’. For a while let’s focus on that group of writers and the magazine; who were those writers and what the magazine was about.   
** JLS –    It was called ‘Expression’, now how did it start. It started by teachers at St Stanislaus College and Queen’s College which were the two premium schools in the colonial days. And the teachers were Victor Ramraj at Queen’s College who spotted talented students like John Rickford and Brian Chan and singled them out for their literary gifts and talents; I think both wrote poetry which they use to show him. Then at St Stanislaus, there was an English VSO called Brian Cotton who noticed John Agard and Mark McWatt and singled them out. They were so talented and passionate about literature that he formed a club wherein they would all contributed money with which he would buy popular paperback novels for them to read like ‘The Loniness of a Long Distance Runner’.
** PP    – Wow, how fortunate for those students.
** JLS –    Yes, they were so passionate about literature that these teachers wanted to foster their talents, so they encouraged them to read and to write. And they were such an outpouring of poetry from these students – as I am talking, things are coming back to me: like there was also another person involved, he was N. D. Williams. Next they, that is, Williams and Cotton decided to start a magazine where these poems could be published and they called it ‘Expression’.  
** PP –    Lovely, appropriate name. You were fortunate, the group I mean, was fortunate because the paperback revolution had just started and it was easy to get hold of inexpensive books.  
** JLS –    I have never thought of that – the paperback revolution reaching Guyana. You’re right Petamber because Bookers which is Guyana Stores now, was the place to be when you were young, to sit and pose on Saturday mornings, in the Bookers snack bar.    
** PP    – Near to the book stands.
** JLS –    And there would be these carousels of paperbacks and we use to go and buy our snacks – patties and cheese rolls and drink orange juice and pose. And then when we have done that, we would go and look at books. So it was a culture that valued books and we were all well-read; we were up to date with the latest classics as with William Faulkner and others.
** PP    – What this did for you and the group – getting the latest paperbacks?
** JLS –    It fed our appetite for literature and writing.
I had left school and done a few jobs having moved to Georgetown to work in a bank, the Barclay’s Bank, but I wanted to carry on my formal education so I decided to go to the University of Guyana but I needed to get my ‘A’ Level in English so I went to private lessons at Milton Drepaul who was a friend of Victor [Ramraj].
I dare to show him some of the poems I’ve written and he said Janice you should get them publish in ‘Expression’ and I will put you on to Brian Chan who does all the work, get the work type and set up the Gestetner Machine and use to print the magazine. Brian walked in just then and Milton introduced us, telling him about my stories and how the work is good enough to be published the magazine. So I met Brian, we got on very well; he used to work at the British Council.
** PP –    Remember the British Council Library – what a place!
** JLS –    Of course, I remember, I use to go to the library….
** PP    – And there was also the JFK Library…
** JLS – We had lots of libraries and bookshops. So Brian introduced me to his friends John Agard and Terence Roberts.
** PP    – While you were still here in Guyana your work appeared in another popular journal, ‘Kaie’.
** JLS –    Yes I wrote a story for it, also winning a prize in the process.
** PP –    So your writing started in Guyana.
Now let’s move to the UK. What was the literary scene like in the UK?…(to be continued)
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