Literature

Margaret Busby wins London Book Fair Lifetime Achievement Award

Publisher Margaret Busby is to receive the London Book Fair Lifetime Achievement Award this year, in a ceremony taking place at the organisation’s first in-person event since the pandemic began.

Zadie Smith and Bernardine Evaristo will present the award, which recognises an individual who has made a truly significant mark in the sphere of global publishing. It is open to publishers, agents, editors, scouts and anyone else involved in international publishing from any country in the world.

Co-founder of publishing company Allison & Busby, Busby is regarded as a major cultural figure in Britain and around the world. Born in Ghana and educated in the UK, she graduated from Bedford College, London University, before becoming Britain’s youngest and first Black woman publisher when she co-founded the press in the late 1960s. She has published authors including Buchi Emecheta, Nuruddin Farah, Rosa Guy, C L R James, Michael Moorcock and Jill Murphy.

Busby at doing talk for her Book New Daughters of Africa

A writer, editor, broadcaster and literary critic, she has written drama for BBC radio and the stage, with radio abridgements and dramatisations including work by Henry Louis Gates, Timothy Mo, Walter Mosley, Jean Rhys, Sam Selvon and Wole Soyinka. She has served on the boards of organisations such as the Royal Literary Fund, Wasafiri magazine, Tomorrow’s Warriors, Nubian Jak Community Trust and the Africa Centre in London.

A long-time campaigner for diversity in publishing, she is an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and recipient of several honorary doctorates and awards, including 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.

Commenting on the award, Busby said: “It was such a pleasure to receive this news, the import of which is only gradually sinking in. To have been nominated and then chosen for such a prestigious award is an immense honour and very humbling. What a roll-call of predecessors! Sad to realise that some of those I interacted with over the decades—such as Sonny [Mehta], Peter [Mayer] and Deborah [Rogers]—are no longer with us, but inspiring to know that so many others are still fighting the good fight. I am so grateful to remain connected to the industry’s journey and I’d like to thank LBF for this special honour.

“Thank you to all my colleagues and friends, and those who have walked with me over the decades on paths less trodden, helping to forge exciting international links and collaborations between authors, editors and booksellers. Throughout my career, I have published and worked with many incredibly fine writers, and I have been fortunate to be part of their ongoing success. My life in publishing was conceived while I was at university, not yet of age, and since that pre-dates the venerable London Book Fair, I can bear witness to how far that has come. Thank you, LBF, for all that you do, and thank you again for this amazing award.”

Ellah P Wakatama, editor-at-large at Canongate, commented: “Every single person of colour working in publishing today is standing on the shoulders of this amazing woman. Margaret Busby epitomises US vice-president Kamala Harris’ advice: ‘You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last’. Margaret blazed trails and brought down barriers. And with her gentle encouragement (fierce when it needs to be) and her capacity for bringing people together, she is my inspiration and so often my place of solace. I cannot think of anyone in my professional sphere who has made such a culture-defining difference.”

The award will be presented at an invitation-only event in London on 2nd July. Last year’s award recepient was Nigel Newton, founder and c.e.o. of Bloomsbury. 

LBF director Andy Ventris said: “I am absolutely delighted that Margaret Busby is the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Margaret is a savvy publisher, a truly inspiring cultural figure, and an incredibly important champion for diversity. As Britain’s youngest and first Black woman publisher, she laid the ground for generations to come, and is still one of the most respected voices in publishing today. Margaret is such a worthy recipient and I am so pleased that we will be able to honour her achievements at LBF’s first in-person event since the pandemic struck. This is truly a cause for celebration, and I look forward to welcoming our guests to the presentation ceremony.”

Read our interview with Busby here.

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