THE shortlist for the 2014 Guyana Prize for Literature in the various categories has been released, and noted Guyanese writer David Dabydeen and newcomer Keisha McCammon are among those in the running. The announcement was made via a release by the Management Committee of the Guyana Prize for Literature, which said the 2014 awards were judged in the areas of fiction, poetry and drama, as decided by the Jury, an independent panel of writers, critics and experts in the fields of literature, drama, culture and the arts. The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony on November 29.
Meanwhile, among the shortlist for Best First Book of Fiction are: Rueben Latchmansingh, “A Dip at the Sangam2 (Westbow Press). “A Dip at the Sangam” is a work of historical fiction about the abduction of the protagonist, Raja, from his Indian home, his transportation to the cane fields of Guyana, his experiences and success in Guyana and his eventual return to India. Also in the category, Keisha McCammon, penned “Dancehall Lyrics: Top of the Charts” which has been described as a fast-moving contemporary work of fiction centred around a much-acclaimed Dancehall singer, Aaron Mills (known as A.M.). The fiction casts interesting light on the Dancehall music scene in Guyana. Subraj Singh’s “Rebelle and Other Stories” is another shortlisted book, described as a first collection of wonderfully written short stories, rich with the flavour, culture and folklore of coastal Guyana.
BEST FIRST BOOK OF POETRY
In the category of Best First Book of Poetry, Cedric Castello, “Rasta Lyrics” is in the running. “Rasta Lyrics”, a first collection by a Rastafarian teacher/singer/songwriter, is described as a collection of readable poems that range over the author’s many interests and activities and celebrate Rastafarianism and its founder, Haile Selassie I. Also in this category is Stanley Niamatali’s “The Hinterlands”. “The Hinterlands” is a wonderful debut collection of poems centred around the author’s haunting memories of life on a sawmill in the Berbice River. The poet, now living in the U.S., straddles two cultures and his poems depict and question the values of both.
Additionally, for the Best Book of Fiction category, David Dabydeen, “Johnson’s Dictionary” (Peepal Tee) depicts and juxtaposes, in Dabydeen’s richly textured and sensuous prose, the two worlds of 18th century London and British Guiana (Demerara), the prize’s management committee said.
The book also contains several echoes of previous Dabydeen literary and scholarly works that depict the 18th century: William Hogarth, William Turner, Samuel Johnson… Adam Smith… The novel transforms past and present into the sensuous, imaginative world(s) of the author and is a tour de force of imperial will, art, literature and human sensuality.
Jan Lowe Shinebourne’s “The Last Ship” is also in this category. The Last Ship, according to the committee, is a historically and culturally important novel about three generations of a Chinese family in Guyana. According to the committee, the physical conditions, the family myths and the invented traditions are powerfully evoked in a simple and direct language. Finally in this category is Oonya Kempadoo’s “All Decent Animals”. The committee said Kempadoo’s fast-moving third novel is about a variety of characters and interests woven into the complex fabric of Trinidadian life and culture -prominently including Carnival. The language, the committee said, is rich and sensuous and will remind readers of their pleasure in the earlier Kempadoo novels, Buxton Spice and Tide Running.
Moreover, in the Best Book of Poetry category Cyril Dabydeen’s “God’s Spider” is one of the three that was shortlisted. “God’s Spider” is a collection of carefully-wrought and polished poems that celebrate the many places and cultures that have shaped the poet’s consciousness -including his native Guyana, Canada (where he now lives) and India, the committee said.
Also in this category is Maggie Harris’ “60 Years of Loving”. This is Harris’s sixth collection of poetry and it evokes her 60 years of life in Guyana and the UK, the committee said, adding that the “74 richly textured, mature and celebratory poems sparkle and impress with a language that resonates with original imagery and insight”. Sasenarine Persaud’s “Love in the Time of Technology” is also in the running. The book is described as a fine collection of brief, succinct poems. “The imagery is emotionally charged and reverberates with cultural memories: the references to the language, traditions and cultures of India are particularly poignant and interesting,” the committee noted.
Finally, in the Best Book of Drama category Harold Bascom’s “Desperate for Relevance” is among those shortlisted. The book is described as an interesting drama script in which most of the characters are dead Caribbean writers. Funny in parts, it is also in parts a sad and poignant commentary on the plight of our writers and societies. The writing makes the reader long to see it powerfully enacted on the local stage. Also in this category is Milton Bruce’s “New York Pieces of Dreams”. The committee said this is a carefully contrived and interesting play about the lives, the dreams and the disappointments of Guyanese immigrants in New York.
The jury comprised of Professor Mark McWatt, an internationally acclaimed award winning fiction writer and poet, critic and academic; Mrs Ameena Gafoor, literary and arts critic, Editor of The Arts Journal and Founder of The Arts Forum; Robert Leyshon, Senior Lecturer at UWI, Cave Hill, Director of the Cave Hill Theatre, dramatist and critic; and Dr Louis Regis, Head of Literary, Cultural and Communication Studies at UWI, St Augustine, researcher in Cultural Studies, critic and academic.