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Margaret Busby – Britain’s first black publisher

By 19th October 2020Uncategorised

Ghanaian-born Margaret Busby is a writer, editor and broadcaster but is perhaps best known for being Britain’s first black publisher. Often described as a pathfinder and a pioneer, she was an early champion of black and ethnic minority literary voices and has long been a campaigner for more diversity in publishing.

Margaret studied English at Bedford College, London University where she edited her college literary magazine as well as publishing her own poetry, and graduated with a BA Honours degree.

A chance meeting at a party with fellow student and literary enthusiast Clive Allison led them to start their own publishing company, Allison & Busby. When the company published its first books in 1967, it made Margaret the first black woman publisher in England. The company’s first major success came in 1969 with African-American Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By The Door, a manuscript previously rejected on both sides of the Atlantic. Allison & Busby eventually sold the translation rights around the globe. Over the course of the following 20 years as Editorial Director Margaret published writers from all over the world, including a host of writers, both male and female, from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. She subsequently took on the role of Editorial Director of Earthscan, before pursuing a career as a freelance editor, writer and critic. Reflecting on her title as Britain’s first black publisher she said:

“It is easy enough to be the first, we can each try something and be the first woman or the first African woman to do X, Y or Z. But, if it’s something worthwhile you don’t want to be the only. …I hope that I can, in any way, inspire someone to do what I have done but learn from my mistakes and do better than I have done.”

In 1992 Margaret edited the groundbreaking anthology Daughters of Africa, which contained the work of over 200 women of African descent, including Alice Walker, Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison. March 2019 saw the publication of a second follow-up anthology entitled New Daughters of Africa, also edited by Margaret, showcasing the work of another generation of authors.

Margaret was awarded the O.B.E (Order of the British Empire) in 2006 for services to literature and publishing, and in 2020 was voted one of 100 Great Black Britons. She continues to campaign for more diversity in publishing, and to champion the voices of black and ethnic minority writers.

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