A Brief History of The Guyana Annual
Adapted from “A Contemporary History of The Christmas Annual” by Nigel Westmaas and editorials from Allan A Fenty and Petamber Persaud.
The Christmas Years
1900s to 1990s
"In many directions we have broken new ground. In giving away a presentation plate with this number we have followed the example of the great English Annuals, the only difference being that we charge just a quarter of the price that you are called upon to pay for these publications in the colony"
So boasted the editorial in the first issue of Guyana's mercurial Annual family magazine in December 1915. The boast had some substance. Priced at eight cents, it accommodated approximately one hundred pages of family material. It is no exaggeration to declare that the Chronicle Christmas Annual has been a Guyanese institution. Like another respected magazine, the literary Kyk-Over-Al, the Annual's phoenix-like ability to endure in all likelihood derived from the need, the craving for a magazine of its type. Guyanese in normal circumstances would look forward as much to the Annual as they did to Christmas. There were also reports in the press from time to time of the Annual being "sold out".
Launched in the midst of the turbulence of the First World War under the auspices of Daily Chronicle Company, the magazine would continue, albeit in fits and starts, for at least another 75 years, with the last issue before this current number published in 1992. During certain periods, like the war years and local crises, the Annual would suspend and then resume publication. Between 1962 and 1965 no Annual was published, presumably on account of the disturbances in those years, but it returned in Independence Year, 1966.
The Chronicle Christmas Annual has had rivals in its time. In fact, one major rival preceded it by some 22 years. The Christmas Tide, published by the rival newspaper company, the Argosy Ltd, was launched in 1893. This magazine, which strongly resembled the Chronicle Annual in form and content, (or should it be the other way around?) seemed to have breathed its last by 1950. Caribia, the popular Bookers Annual, also competed with the two Annuals for a short period before and after the Second World War. In a country where magazine mortality has been high, the ability of the Christmas Annual, despite some near- death experiences, to rise above its difficulties, must ultimately be traced to the loyalty and need of the reading public.
What and Who We Published
The short story section was by far the most celebrated facet of the Annual and dominated the production in terms of page percentage for most of its history. Some extremely good short stories were exhibited in
the annual. The editor of the first issue summed up this claim in stating that the stories "would do no discredit to any English or American magazine and we may congratulate ourselves on the talent we have in our midst".
The substance and form of the Chronicle Christmas Annual has always fascinated the Guyanese reader. Its covers were art works in themselves and, at least in the earlier issues, particular care seemed to have been taken in capturing attention through the cover presentation. By 1932, the Annual broke new ground with an issue using "a colour medium for the first time in local magazine production". From there onwards the famous colour photos and covers would become a fixture in the annual.
The strongest and most consistent components of the Chronicle Christmas Annual over time are identified in their diversity: Arts review, short stories, essays, and the prize system for which the magazine was famous. In the 1915 Annual for example, the celebrated Bajan-born Guyanese educator and trade unionist, A.A. Thorne, won the "handsome" first prize of $10: for his essay: "An analysis of Sir Walter Egerton's Administration in British Guiana". Miss Sharples of Christianburg also won $10: for reviewing the "Great European Campaign of World War I". In the early heady days of the Annual prizes were offered for essays, drawings, poems written in creolese, and later a photograph competition was initiated. This tradition continued right through the Annual's history. Limericks, a British tradition, were also found in the early issues of the Annual.
It was not all plain sailing however and the Annual would frequently make self-criticisms in an effort to improve itself. The Christmas Annual of 1948 for instance lamented the fact that "the standard of the literary efforts submitted this year is unfortunate, while the Art submissions continued to be of a high quality". When the editor expressed this concern he must have done so from an "accustomcy" of expectations of impressive short story and essay submissions.
Many of the short story contributors to the Chronicle went on to make their mark in national life. This galaxy of writers included James Rodway, A.RF. Webber ( editor of the 1920 issue), E.R. Burrowes, Celeste Dolphin, Laurence Byass, Zorina Ishmail, Basil Hinds, Nellie Wishart, B.O. Wills, Donald Robinson, Leonard Westmaas, Peter Britton, Wilson Harris, Basil Balgobin, Archibald Oswald, Claude Robinson, Gordon Woolford and many more.
Personalities, Art, Jazz
Other well-known Guyanese personalities Percy Wight, Charles Chichester, Harry Harewood (Highlights of the Years) AJ. Seymour, Pat Dial, Jake Croker, Rick Simon and Connie Theobald, were among the distinguished essay writers and General Section contributors to the Annual over the years. Numerous features were included in the Annual's repertoire and experiments with newer pieces were pursued as time passed: word amalgams, crosswords, and even plebiscites on issues like the best features in the sponsoring newspaper Daily Chronicle were added occasionally. One interesting article of contemporary interest was published in the 1943 copy of the magazine. It reported on the "success" of a foreigner, W.L.J. Wakeham, in solving "our traffic problem". Women writers were also prolific in the Annual. Connie Theobald, Mildred Mansfield, Ena Luckhoo, Barbara Muss, Marjorie Broodhagen, Iris Grimes, Claudette Earle and other women were prominent. Topics varied, and ranged from the beauty tips column to the role of women in trade unions and politics. In a celebrated article in 1923, Eleanor Waby wrote her memories of the Botanic Gardens (1878-1928). The Art and Jazz Reviews of Basil Hinds held their own distinctive merit and accredited the Chronicle Christmas Annual with an avant garde stature in art and music criticism. Most of the famous names in the Guyanese art movement and their art were submitted to the severe but graceful scrutiny of E.R. Burrowes and Basil Hinds. Stanley Greaves, Emerson Simon, Donald Locke, and Denis Williams were among these blossoming artists of the 1940s and 1950s. Indeed, the pen and ink drawings of Stanley Greaves were an outstanding speciality of the Annual. Musicians were also given serious and critical comment in the Annual, as the two popular musical groups, 'the Rhythmaires' and the 'Melons', were given in the 1966 edition.
E.R. Burrowes was a former judge of The Chronicle Christmas Annual's Art Competitions
The Rythmaires a popular Guyanese band, was reviewed in The Chronicle Christmas Annual 1966
Mr Pat Dial wrote features for The Chronicle Christmas Annual.
The Photography prize competition and the Annual's panache for printing photographs of Georgetown in its erstwhile but pristine glory also gave the magazine a special quality. Photos of "Remembrance Day" in 1927; pictures and scenes from Mackenzie; railroad construction scenes; trees of Hadfield Street, the British Guiana contingent leaving the docks for war in Europe; cricket team portraits; were all among the Annual's showpieces. One significant photograph was one of the now bygone Grand American Hotel that once stood right next to another important building on the Georgetown skyline, Central Garage. In what must have been important for image and colonial sanction, the Annual would publish each issue, an official portrait of the presiding Governor of British Guiana.
A prominent and necessary feature of the magazine was the substantial,some say horrendous, amount of advertisements within its pages. Advertisements literally inundated these magazines and were most certainly a major factor responsible for the Annual's long survival in a field where high morality was a commanding characteristic. In the 1928 issue of our favourite magazine, for instance, there were one hundred and eighty ads. A veritable memory lane of well-known business advertisers tussled with each other for space in the magazine and to produce the best ad in pursuit of the best dollar. These included some well known business concerns: Jaikaran's , Park Hotel, Bettencourts, Spellens Electrical, G.R. Hutchinson, Sprostons, B.G. Indian Jewelry, Yong Hings Grocery, Perreira and Serrao, De Sousa's Confectionery and many many more.
Sports and Our Death
Sports were also a regular and much sought after feature of the Chronicle Christmas Annual. In 1928 the Annual carried captioned photos of what it termed British Guiana Olympic Stars who participated in the Amsterdam Holland Olympics for other countries. Among them were Phil Edwards and Jack London. Phil Edwards was a middle-distance runner who represented Canada, won his heat in the 800 metres and ran fourth in the final. Jack London Guianese born sprinter ran the 100 metres for England but narrowly lost to Percy Williams of the USA. There were also pen portraits of Guyanese sportsmen and women. Joyce Heywood, a Guyanese athlete, appeared in at least one issue. In later years the experienced sporting hand of Charles Chichester took the baton and gave the sports pages more prominence and more photographic attention. In short, every major sporting event in Guyana and further afield was covered by the Christmas Annual. In later years of the Annual, that is, in the seventies and eighties the Annual appeared, but as a shadow of its former self. Something had been lost along the way. The magazine got thinner. Even the ads shrank in quantity. The Annual was floundering. Yawning gaps appeared in the publication. No one even bothered with an autopsy
That is until one, who was touched by the literary tradition as a young Berbician, and who was, despite his sojourn abroad,disappointed by its prolonged absence - Dr Tulsi Dyal Singh. Even as it must be noted,with appropriate significance, the role of the early Daily Chronicle – a private sector entity –in creation of this literary digest, it must be recognised that once again, it is a rather private enterprise and initiative, in the person of Dr Singh, Guyanese patriot and philanthropist, which has been the part sponsor and impetus for the resurgence of that which, among so many good things, was lost to us for too long.
Dr. Tulsi Dyal Singh
The magazine, in its present form, is now published by Guyenterprise, with continued support from Dr Tulsi Dyal Singh and corporate sponsors without whose help the publication would fold like so many others.
The honour of nurturing this new version of the magazine fell into the capable hands of Allan Fenty who was the editor for the magazine from 1998 and 1999. Fenty is an educator, folklorist, television producer and columnist. His book on Guyanese Proverbs, ‘A Plate-a Guyana Cook-up’ was published in 2011. The next edition of the magazine published in 2000, the end of the Second Millennium, was edited by Charles De Florimonte, a veteran journalist who worked on all the major newspapers in this country.
The new millennium found the magazine under youthful oversight. The 2001 edition was edited by Ruel Johnson, then President of the Janus Young Writers Guild. Johnson went on the win the Guyana Prize for Literature on two occasions.The next edition of the magazine 2002-2003 found its way back in the veteran editorship of Allan Fenty.
The 2003 issue came under the watch of young Kojo McPherson, Vice-President of Janus Young Writers Guild. McPherson has gone on to become a film maker, photographer, and scriptwriter for Merundoi. From 2004 to 2017, the magazine was edited by Petamber Persaud during which time there were numerous modifications including new competitions for young writers and competitions preparing literature for children. Prize monies and packages were increased appreciably. Persaud is now a television producer and columnist. His publications include ‘An Introduction to Guyanese Literature’, ‘The Balgobin Saga’ and ‘Made in Guyana’.
In 2018 Petamber Persaud passed the baton to Danielle Swain.The competition aspect was re-introduced after being dormant for three years. New competitions were added such as the Hawley Harris Award for Cartoon, Bertram Charles Award for Drama and the David de Caires Award for Journalism. Existing competitions were also renamed for outstanding Guyanese creatives and pioneers such as Stephanie Correia and Bobby Fernandes.
The Guyana Annual, hopes to continue to grow its place and function in Guyanese society as a platform and outlet for creative talent; a literary lighthouse to guide Guyana’s course back to the highest standards of varied
expression and, in a word, sustain our role as outlet for talents in a cultural renaissance that benefits Guyana. In 1915 the Annual said “we await the verdict of our readers with confidence". A hundred years later, we're still kicking. Here’s to a hundred more!