Indie Spotlight: New Beacon Books, Jacaranda Books and RedBone Press
By Mara Radut, Millie Kiel and Megan Cooke
New Beacon Books
New Beacon Books is a publishing house and a bookshop which specialises in literature written by Caribbean, Black British, African and African American authors. Founded in 1966 by John LaRose and his partner Sarah White, New Beacon was the first Black publisher in the UK. Withstanding the test of space and time, it has given Britain publications from multiple genres and geographical locations, largely written by Black people.
At its core, New Beacon is based upon LaRose’s political and cultural vision resulting from his experience in the Caribbean and South America. LaRose sought to mend the reality of being brought up in a colonial society, which is why he turned to book publishing - a medium that could validate and highlight the importance of one’s culture, history, politics and sense of self.
New Beacon’s bookshop is very much a community endeavour. Mostly run by volunteers, it has engaged with several political and social projects, organisations and campaigns that advocate for education, social justice and racial equality. As a specialist bookshop, New Beacon Books is under the looming threat of the modern book industry in which readers tend to turn to independent bookshops less. Being closed for a while in 2016, New Beacon’s bookshop reassessed its business model and came back stronger the following year. Its main goals were to financially sustain the bookshop, but also to put its faith in a new generation of social media activists, students, educationalists, parents and children.
Today, New Beacon Books is a flourishing independent publisher and bookshop that offers plenty of literary choices crafted by the unique voices of Black authors from Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, North America, Europe, South America and Britain. The bookshop is located on 76 Stroud Green Road, London, where hidden gems await to be discovered.
Founded in 2012, Jacaranda Books is another fantastic independent publisher with a crystal clear ethos: they are “committed to publishing ground-breaking writing with a dedication to creating space on the bookshelf for diverse ideas and writers.” This is precisely what they have achieved.
Since the publication of their first book in 2014, Jacaranda have over seventy titles on their list, including award winners Bernice L. McFadden, Fiston Mwanza Mujila, Irenosen Okojie and Shola Von Reinhold. The books span a range of genres and audiences, from adult and YA fiction to non-fiction and poetry. Whatever you typically reach for on the shelf, chances are Jacaranda has something to your taste.
Emerging from the pandemic like a phoenix from the ashes, Jacaranda Books are going from strength to strength. Just this year, they formed a partnership with Hachette in order to expand their sales and distribution - this move will significantly boost their reach across both UK and international markets. Speaking on the partnership, Jacaranda’s founder Valerie Brandes said: “We look forward to working with Hachette to realise our global ambitions and together we will extend and support the global market for readers of books by diverse voices. We could not be more excited about the future.”
Jacaranda are also the masterminds behind the #TwentyIn2020 initiative. Last year, they became the first UK publishers to publish twenty titles by twenty Black British Writers within a year. One of the titles included in the #TwentyIn2020 initiative, Shola Von Reinhold’s Lote, went on to win The Republic of Consciousness Prize 2021. Described by The Guardian as “a celebration of eccentricity,” Lote follows Mathilda, a young Black woman, as she navigates a life in awe of the ‘Bright Young Things’ of the 1920s who sit at odds with her reality. The novel has mystery, whimsy and important political messages.
"Their first book, does your mama know?, is an anthology of coming out stories by Black lesbians in the form of poetry, short stories, interviews and essays that has gone on to win two Lambda Literary Awards."
RedBone Press was founded in 1997 by Lisa C. Moore as a way to bring more Black lesbian voices into the foreground. As the press grew, they began to amplify the voices of Black gay men, making RedBone Press a safe space for people of the Black LGBTQ+ community to hear from people who have had similar experiences to themselves.
Their first book, does your mama know?, is an anthology of coming out stories by Black lesbians in the form of poetry, short stories, interviews and essays that has gone on to win two Lambda Literary Awards. This collection of non-fiction and fiction stories is an emotional insight into the experiences that these women had when coming out and has been described as “a powerful collection of original and new writing.”
RedBone Press aim to promote an understanding between Black gay and lesbian people and the Black mainstream by celebrating the culture of Black queer people. The positive impact their books have had on these communities, and the mainstream, is evident as they push more of their voices into the limelight.
"RedBone ambitiously fulfils a two-fold Black feminist mission of both creating space for new critical voices to emerge and insisting on the relevance of earlier work by thinkers committed to the wholeness and freedom of Black communities." - Alexis Pauline Gumbs, American Book Review, 2008