Margaret Busby Receives LBF Lifetime Achievement Award
By Natalia Alvarez
On 23 September, Margaret Busby CBE, Hon. FRSL (Nana Akua Ackon) was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the London Book Fair (LBF).
This marked one of the first in-person events in the industry since the start of the pandemic, as well as the first time a Black person has ever received this award.
She was presented the award by Booker Prize winner Bernadine Evaristo, best known for her popular novel Girl, Woman, Other.
Busby is a Ghanaian-born publisher, editor, writer and broadcaster who co-founded Allison & Busby (A & B) in 1967 with her friend Clive Allison, whom she met while in college. She is the UK’s first woman publisher of African descent and was, at the time, the youngest publisher in the UK. She worked at A & B for twenty years, serving as the Editorial Director and had a hand in publishing novels by many popular authors such as Sam Greenlee (The Spook Who Sat by the Door) and Buchi Emecheta (Second Class Citizen & The Slave Girl).
As a journalist, Busby has written for The Guardian, The Observer, The Sunday Times and The Independent to name a few. She has interviewed many notable authors, including Toni Morrison, Nawal El Saadawi and Wole Soyinka among others. She has judged many literary competitions, most recently serving as the chair of the 2020 Booker Prize judges and has served on the boards of many cultural organizations. Additionally, she is a known activist within the publishing community, rallying for diversity and inclusion amongst underrepresented groups. 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.
Busby’s 1992 anthology Daughters of Africa compiles more than 200 writings of women from Africa and African descent. It pioneered African writing within the publishing world and covers a wide variety of genres, including essays, poetry, fiction and children’s writing. A companion volume was subsequently released in 2019 titled New Daughters of Africa which included an additional 200+ contributions. Busby’s own contributions to the publishing community have been great and it is no wonder why she was chosen for this year’s prestigious honour.
Gayl Jones Publishes First Novel in 20 Years
By Naomi Churn
More than twenty years after she vanished from the public eye, American literary great Gayl Jones has returned to the publishing world with her new novel, Palmares, a searing epic set among the plantations of 17th century colonial Brazil. Palmares was published in the UK on 14 September and is already attracting glittering reviews.
Gayl Jones was born in 1949 in Lexington, Kentucky. First attending segregated schools due to the state laws of the time, she eventually went on to study at Connecticut College. She graduated in 1971 and afterwards earned both a Master’s degree and a Doctorate of Arts from Brown University, studying under her mentor, poet Michael Harper.
After reading the manuscript for her first novel, Corregidora, then-editor Toni Morrison suggested that “no novel about any Black woman could ever be the same after this.” Corregidora was released in 1975 and launched Jones into literary stardom, gaining glowing reviews from writers such as Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and John Updike. Set in 1940s Kentucky, Jones’ first novel follows blues singer Ursa, who still bears the surname of the man who fathered and enslaved her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother a century before, the name that gives the novel its title.
Corregidora was quickly followed by Eva’s Man in 1976, which tells the story of Eva, a woman who lands in prison for murdering and castrating her lover after learning he is married. In a rare interview with Charles H Rowell, editor of Callaloo, Jones stated that Eva’s Man was a “horror story.” He suggested that what Eva “does to the man in the book is a “horror”...Eva carries out what Ursa might have done but didn’t.” Published back-to-back, the two novels stand in tandem and paint a powerful picture of the legacy of slavery.
Jones published several short story and poetry collections in the 1970s and 1980s before releasing two more novels in the late 1990s. The Healing was published in 1998 and Mosquito followed in 1999, shortly after which Jones vanished from the publishing scene for more than two decades.
News has emerged that Jones sent her American publisher, Beacon Press, a draft of her new novel Palmares in 1997, claiming it had already been in the works for more than 20 years. The novel follows a young slave girl Almeyda as she travels from plantation to plantation, hearing whispers of a place called Palmares where escaped slaves live as free men and women.
Beacon Press plans to publish five more works by Gayl Jones within the next two years, both re-publications of updated existing work and exciting new material.
The Atlantic dubbed Jones “the best American novelist whose name you may not know.” It is hoped that Palmares, along with future publishing plans, will bring the extraordinary voice and name of Gayl Jones to a new generation of readers, as well as satisfying long-time fans of her work.