A Snapshot of Margaret Busby’s Illustrious Career
Born in Accra to parents of Bajan, Trinidadian and Dominican origin, and educated in London University, Margaret Busby’s legacy certainly transcends borders. In the 1960s, became Britain’s youngest and first black female book publisher. At University, where Busby was introduced to a young Clive Anderson in a fruitful meeting which soon led to a business partnership. In 1967, the two co-founded publishing company Alison & Busby and launched their debut publication of three poetry books: Selected Poems by James Reeves, A Stained-Glass Raree Show by Libby Houston and The Saipan Elegy by James Grady. The company also published the groundbreaking debut novel The Spook Who Sat By The Door by Sam Greenlee which went on to be selected for The Sunday Times Book of the Year in 1969. The company went on to publish many more amazing literary works including Buchi Emecheta’s fiction and non-fiction.
Margaret Busby later went on to become Director of Earthscan, publishing the works of writers the likes of Nuruddin Farah, Franz Fanon, Carolina Maria De Jesus and several others. Aside from publishing, Busby has judged literary awards such as the Caine Prize for African Writing, OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and the Commonwealth Book Prize. Busby has worked in broadcasting on numerous occasions since the late 1960s. During her time at the BBC, Busby presented Break For Women on the BBC Africa Service. Her more dramatized productions for the BBC included works by Jean Rhys, Wole Soyinka, Lawrence Scott and Simi Bedford. In 1998, her play based on C.L.R. James’s novel Minty Alley was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and in 1999, won a Commission for Racial Equality “Race in the Media Award” (RIMA).
Margaret Busby’s achievements certainly have not gone unnoticed. In 2005, Margaret Busby was appointed the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her services to Literature and to Publishing. Some of her honorary awards and recognitions include:
1999 – Ghanaian traditional honour as Nana Akua Ackon, Cape Coast.
2004 – Awarded an Open University Honorary Doctorate for Services to the Arts and Sciences.
2011 – Granted an Honorary Fellowship for Queen Mary, University of London.
2017 – Elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, in which she was subsequently awarded the Benson Medal by the Royal Society of Literature in the UK.
The Journey to New Daughters of Africa
In 1992, Margaret Busby edited and introduced Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writings by Women of African Descent, published by Jonathan Cape. Daughters of Africa was a seminal collection – a literary first – where works from over 200 women writers from Africa and beyond were compiled into one volume, with genres spanning fiction, essays, drama, poetry, memoirs and children’s writing. Busby described the process of assembling the collection of over 1,000 pages as one “trying to catch a flowing river in a calabash“. Many regarded the anthology as a pioneering piece of work and received international acclaim, as it highlighted the “silent, forgotten, underrated voices of black women” (The Washington Post).
Twenty fives later – after learning Daughters of Africa anthology was out of print – Busby took on to the colossal challenge of reworking and introducing a new volume, New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of 20th and 21st Century Writing by Women of African Descent. This landmark anthology was recently published by Myriad Publications in March 2019; continuing the important mission Busby has set with archiving and eliciting discussion from one generation to another. Keeping in line with the first volume, New Daughters of Africa compiles the works of over 200 African writers from across the continent and beyond. The 800 page anthology explores issues of tradition, race, romance, the politics of gender, sexuality, and inter-sectional feminism.
With the continued efforts in celebrating women writers of African descent, Busby and Myriad Publications have partnered with SOAS University of London and International Student House to fund the £20,000 Margaret Busby New Daughters of Africa Award. This award will be offered to a black, female student who is a resident of Africa to cover tuition and accommodation fees to study a Masters degree in African Studies, Comparative Literature, or Translation in African Languages at SOAS University of London.
An Inspiring Legacy
Busby’s journey to becoming Britain’s youngest black female publisher is certainly an inspiration to many. Her story is a major contribution to the representation of black women in publishing, and her publications have been significant in portraying inclusive and relatable stories for readers and writers who have lived on the margins of society. New Daughters of Africa among the great accomplishments it embodies is also an enjoyable read. More importantly, it is a necessary read. In today’s global climate, we are witnessing a seemingly endless cycle of bigotry and discrimination. Amid the progressive strides to achieve diversity in publishing and media, we are continuing to experience a dismissal of marginalised voices. New Daughters of Africa centres these voices and creates a deeper scope of the interconnected histories and experiences of black women worldwide, highlighting the many shared and nuanced obstacles female writers of colour face as they navigate their way through issues of race, gender and class.
Perhaps one of the most impactful legacies of Margaret Busby’s work, is its ability to resonate with all audiences. In his review of New Daughters of Africa, Paul Burke writes:
This collection opened my eyes in so many ways, to women’s issues and experience, to colour in countries and stories I knew so little about, and many nuances on race and gender. I think I learned something of myself at the same time. (NB Magazine)
By vocalising the narratives of the marginalised, Margaret Busby has expanded the possibility of learning, and has ultimately opened the door for dialogue to occur.
The first volume, Daughters of Africa (1992), marked the beginning of a beautiful exploration into the experiences of black women. New Daughters of Africa (2019) reminds us that the conversation is not over! The stories of black female writers must, and will, always be heard. In an interview with The Guardian, Busby explains: “until you can no longer count the number of African women writers who have broken through then we’ve still got work to do”. Her commitment to publishing female writers from across the African continent and beyond has set the standard, which will hopefully encourage more mainstream publishers to follow suit.
Margaret Busby’s landmark anthology is the epitome of inter-generational sisterhood, and has provided us with the foundations for a remarkable conversation surrounding race, gender and resistance. With this Busby’s legacy is immortalised by continuing to push the conversation forward, and for us, as readers, to continue to celebrate her work and generous, indelible gift to the world.
Written by Adanech Tadesse
Photo Credit of Margaret Busby: Donald MacLellan, National Portrait Gallery