Amy Zamarripa Solis continues the 100 Pioneering Women of Sussex blog series with a tribute to Margaret Busby, publisher, editor, writer, broadcaster and literary critic.
In the 1960s, Margaret Busby OBE, Hon. FRSL (Nana Akua Ackon) became Britain’s youngest and first black female book publisher and over the decades she has had an extensive career devoted to literature, publishing and diversity. In 2020, Margaret is chair of this year’s Booker Prize board.
Margaret Busby was born in 1944 in Accra, Gold Coast (now Ghana) to Dr George Busby and Mrs Sarah Busby. She went to school in Sussex in Bexhill until the age of 15. She then went to London University to read English, graduating in 1964.
In 1967, she co-founded London-based publishing house Allison and Busby (A & B) with Clive Allison (1944–2011). Together, they published seminal titles such as Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat by the Door, Buchi Emecheta’s Second-Class Citizen, C.L.R. James’ The Black Jacobins, and George Lamming’s The Pleasures of Exile. I was intrigued to note James Ellroy and Hunter S. Thompson on their author lists (A&B didn’t publish Black authors exclusively).
In Margaret’s extensive career, she has written as a journalist for The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent, The Sunday Times, the New Statesman. In her writing she has marked the lives of many Afro-Caribbean writers, artists and activists including Toni Morrison, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Jessica Huntley, Buzz Johnson, Jayne Cortez, Jan Carew, Rosa Guy, Gwendolyn Brooks, June Jordan, Toni Cade Bambara, Florynce Kennedy, Barry Reckord, Frank Crichlow, Connie Mark, Glenn Thompson, August Wilson, Pearl Connor-Mogotsi, Geraldine Connor and Binyavanga Wainaina.
She has served on the boards of literature and African organisations, including Royal Literary Fund, Wasafiri magazine, Tomorrow’s Warriors, and the Africa Centre in London. She has judged many prestigious literary prizes, including being chair of judges for the Booker Prize.
In acknowledgement of her achievements, Margaret has received honorary doctorates, fellowships, and awards: the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award, the Royal Society of Literature’s Benson Medal, and the Royal African Society’s inaugural Africa Writes Lifetime Achievement Award.
In the 1990s, she edited the ground-breaking anthology Daughters of Africa (Jonathan Cape, 1992) and its 2019 follow-up New Daughters of Africa, published by Myriad Editions, who has an office in Brighton. The 2019 anthology has been nominated for NAACP Awards for Outstanding Literary Work 2020 and a Lifetime Achievement in African Literature by Africa Writes in 2019. Each anthology compiles more than 200 women from Africa and the African diaspora.
The title references a call to action from first African-American public speaker Maria W Stewart, who said in 1831:
‘O, ye daughters of Africa, awake! awake! arise! no longer sleep nor slumber, but distinguish yourselves. Show forth to the world that ye are endowed with noble and exalted faculties.’
On a local level in Brighton, Margaret kindly read at one of our first Writing Our Legacy events at the Red Roaster in 2010, as part of Black History Month. Her early support for our community’s volunteer-led arts and culture programming greatly encouraged us and set a strong tone for our work.
During my research, I found a great comment, which highlights the importance of remembering and honouring the shoulders we stand on:
‘The life-long efforts that Margaret has had are both international and local, with testaments such as the following: “Dr Margaret is a living legend who has planted seeds in the most amazing and unexpected places. Her tireless dedication has not yet been fully appreciated dud to her humility. But her like we have not seen in Britain before, and will not again for many a generation. Had she been from the US she would be world famous. Its up to us to honour her during her lifetime.’
There is a reminder of why we should tell our stories and ensure that our diverse heritage and communities are recognised, through our own version of history.
Thanks again to Myriad Editions (Brighton office) for linking us up with Margaret.