Margaret Busby is a co-founder of the publishers Allison and Busby, which began n 1967 " />
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lime Books & Spoken Word Interview: Meet Margaret Busby

Lime interview - Books & Spoken Word

Meet Margaret Busby

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Tricia Wombell

Reporter: Tricia Wombell
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Margaret Busby is a co-founder of the publishers Allison and Busby, which began n 1967

It is still an independent publishing company. Margaret is one of the most eminent people in the UK’s publishing community. And she is also now a broadcaster and reviewer. This year she will be supporting and encouraging new and established writers through her involvement in the following literature prizes. First, she is the Chair of the Commonwealth Book Prize, the short list will be announced in April 2012 and the winner announced in May 2012. And later in the year Margaret will also be judging the SI Leeds Literary Prize, which is a brand new award for unpublished fiction (30,000 words) by black and Asian women writers and is supported by the independent publishers, Peepal Tree Press. 

Tell us a little about Allison and Busby.

Although Allison & Busby still exists as an independent publisher, I have had no formal involvement with it for quite a while, so can’t comment on their current publishing policy.  The style and content of the list now is obviously very different from what it was originally, since the people involved with choosing the books are different, with differing interests, politics, etc.

When we started the company it was to do the sort of publishing we did not think was being done at that time; in the first place, it was certainly an unusual thing for a small publisher to start up, and our approach was also something of a departure from what was then happening.  The A&B list featured both new writers and established authors, in a mixture of poetry, fiction, non-fiction (particularly political) and children’s books.  We brought back into print many titles we thought were important as well as discovering, nurturing and making successful new writers. 

Someone once paid what I consider a high compliment about the A&B list of those days: “You never knew what Allison & Busby would publish next, but you knew it was going to be interesting.”

Which book are you most proud of publishing?

Most of them, for one reason or another. The very first novel we published – which had been rejected by publishers on both sides of the Atlantic – was Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By the Door (a subversive political thriller, the first book by an African American).  We made it into a success, with extracts in The Observer, translation rights sold round the world, etc, and it was made into a film that has achieved cult status.

It was good to be able to bring back into print important writers who had been neglected for years.  For example, most of work of CLR James was out of print in this country when I began to republish his work in the 1970s.  In terms of other significant black writers, we published George Lamming, Roy Heath, Buchi Emecheta, etc. 

Which of your published works would you liked to have seen do better than it did?


Sometimes there has been the occasional book that has been so well reviewed everywhere that people think they already know everything about it and don’t bother to buy it…

You are judging the exciting new SI Leeds Literary Prize (a new award for unpublished fiction by Black and Asian women). What inspires you most about this literary initiative?

It will be interesting to see what is being written before it gets filtered through the usual publishing channels.

What do you enjoy most about reviewing books?

The chance to read and enjoy new talent - and get paid for it…though not very much!

What don’t you like about reviewing books?

Much as I love reading good “black books”, I wish that I were also asked to review books outside that perceived “expertise” of being black!  I hope the assumption is not that I am so narrow-minded as to have no interest in a broad range of writing and topics.  I endorse what Toni Morrison once said: “I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and a female person are greater than those of people who are neither . . . My world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger.” 

What are you looking forward to reading for your own enjoyment, after you have finished judging the Commonwealth Book and the SI Literary prizes?

No doubt by then I will have had a surfeit of fiction, so possibly some poetry, perhaps by one of the exciting South African poets on the scene at the moment, e.g. Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

Which writers inspire you?

Toni Morrison is always an inspiration, for her ability to challenge the imagination and make language new; and I also relate to the fact that she used to be an editor in a publishing house and in that capacity helped a lot of other black writers break through. 

What’s so fabulous about being a woman?

Every woman/goddess should realise that it’s amazing what you can do when you don’t care who takes the credit. 


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