When the young Margaret Busby met the young Clive Allison at a party and decided to venture into the rarefied world of book publishing, she did not know she was about to make history.
The time was 1960s London when anything was possible. It was the generation of youth—the Beatles, mini skirts, psychedelic colours, op art and feminism. It was a time of heightened creativity. It was also a time of rebellion internationally as colonised countries sought their independence, and it was the time of the fraught civil rights movement in the US.
Allison & Busby (A&B) launched itself into that heady world in 1967, a small publisher with a remit to reflect the world as it was then in the catalogue of titles it would publish. Margaret Busby became the youngest imprint owner in British publishing and the very first woman of colour. As its editorial director for the next 20 years, Busby oversaw a literary success story that has endured.
With Caribbean parents (Trinidad and Dominica), born in Ghana and educated in Britain, Busby had a particular perspective and let that dictate the authors she chose to publish, including CLR James, Roy Heath, Chester Himes, George Lamming, Sam Greenlee, Buchi Emecheta and many more. A&B books made a statement and broke new ground as an independent publishing house. The Allison & Busby catalogue was an innovative, unpredictable, international list of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s books.
Since leaving A&B in 1987, Busby has continued to play an active role in promoting Caribbean and African writing. She is currently patron of Independent Black Publishers (IBP) and a member of the Arts Council’s Diversity in Publishing steering group.
She has served as a judge for many literary awards, including the Orange Prize, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the Caine Prize for African Writing, the Commonwealth Book Prize and the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.
An award-winning writer, editor, critic and consultant, she has written articles and reviews for many international publications. She also broadcasts on radio and television. Her radio abridgements and dramatisations include works by CLR James, Jean Rhys, Wole Soyinka, Timothy Mo, Sam Selvon, Walter Mosley, Henry Louis Gates, Lawrence Scott and Simi Bedford.
On Thursday, April 30, at a public event at the fifth NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Margaret Busby OBE will be recognised for her important role in advancing Caribbean writing. Speakers will be writer Lawrence Scott and London literary agent Clare Alexander.
The Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters is named for the late BBC World Service radio producer (1915-2004) who created a landmark platform for Caribbean writing in the 1940s and ’50s. The Caribbean Voices programme, which broadcast fiction and poems across the region, built an audience for West Indian literature at a crucial stage in its development and supported a generation of then-emerging writers.
Each year the NGC Bocas Lit Fest honours Swanzy’s memory and recognises the achievements of other editors, broadcasters, publishers and critics via the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award. Awardees are chosen by the festival organising committee, and receive the award at a special festival event. John La Rose and Sarah White of New Beacon Books (2013), and academics Ken Ramchand and Gordon Rohlehr (2014) are previous recipients of the honour.
NGC is the title sponsor of the annual literary festival. First Citizens is the lead sponsor, OCM and the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development are main sponsors, UWI and the Massy Foundation are ongoing sponsors.