Below is an introduction to the Guyana Classics Library by Bharrat Jagdeo, former President of Guyana, taken here from his preface to the series:
Modern Guyana came into being, in the Western imagination, through the travelogue of Sir Walter Raleigh, The Discoverie of Guiana (1595). Raleigh was as beguiled by Guiana’s landscape (“I never saw a more beautiful country…”) as he was by the prospect of plunder (“every stone we stooped to take up promised either gold or silver by his complexion”). Raleigh’s contemporaries, too, were doubly inspired, writing, as Thoreau says, of Guiana’s “majestic forests”, but also of its earth, “resplendent with gold.” By the eighteenth century, when the trade in Africans was in full swing, writers cared less for Guiana’s beauty than for its mineral wealth. Sugar was the poet’s muse, hence the epic work by James Grainger The Sugar Cane (1764), a poem which deals with subjects such as how best to manure the sugar cane plant, the most effective diet for the African slaves, worming techniques, etc. As John Singleton confessed (in his General Description of the West Indies, 1776), there was no contradiction between the manufacture of odes and that of sugar: “…a fine exuberant plant, which clothes the fields with the richest verdure. There is, I believe, scarcely any cultivation which yields so lucrative a return per acre as under favourable circumstances, than that of the sugar cane. So bountiful a gift of Providence seems not only calculated to call forth the activity and enterprise of the agriculturalist and merchant, but to awaken also feelings of a higher and more refined enthusiasm.” The refinement of art and that of sugar were one and the same process.
The nineteenth century saw the introduction of Indian indentureship, but as the sugar industry expanded, literary works contracted. Edward Jenkins’ novel Lutchmee and Dilloo (1877) was the only substantial fiction on Guiana, and whilst it was broadly sympathetic to the plight of Indian labourers, it was certain of Britain’s imperial destiny, and rights over mineral resources. It was not until the period leading up to Guiana’s Independence from Britain (1966) and the subsequent years, that our own writers of Amerindian, African, Asian and European ancestry (A. J. Seymour, Wilson Harris, Jan Carew, Edgar Mittelholzer, Martin Carter, Rajkumari Singh et al.) attempted to purify literature of its commercial taint, restoring to readers a vision of the complexity of the Guyanese character and the beauty of the Guyanese landscape. The Guyana Classics Library will republish out-of-print poetry, novels and travelogues so as to remind us of our literary heritage, and it will also remind us of our reputation for scholarship in the fields of history, anthropology, sociology and politics, through the reprinting of seminal works in these subjects. The Series builds upon previous Guyanese endeavours, like the institution of CARIFESTA and the Guyana Prize. I am delighted that my government has originated the project and has pledged that every library in the land will be furnished with titles from the Series, so that all Guyanese can appreciate our monumental achievement in moving from exploitation to Expression. If the Series becomes the foundation and inspiration for future literary and scholarly works, then my government will have moved towards fulfilling one of its primary tasks, which is the educational development of our people.
Titles May Be Read And Downloaded By Clicking On The “DOWNLOADS” link above.