London Book Fair Lifetime Achievement Award 2021 for Margaret Busby

Zadie Smith and Bernardine Evaristo to present award at LBF in person event

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Margaret Busby Wikkicommons
LBF Lifetime Achievement Award 2021 winner, publisher Margaret Busby Photo Andy Mabbet, Wikkicommons

The London Book Fair will present the LBF Lifetime Achievement Award 2021 to Margaret Busby, co-founder of publishing company Allison & Busby. Margaret Busby OBE, Hon. FRSL (Nana Akua Ackon) is a prominent 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 Allison & Busby in the late 1960s. At Allison & Busby, she published notable authors including Buchi Emecheta, Nuruddin Farah, Rosa Guy, CLR James, Michael Moorcock and Jill Murphy.

A writer, editor, broadcaster and literary critic, she has written drama for BBC radio and the stage, with radio abridgments and dramatizations encompassing work by Henry Louis Gates, Timothy Mo, Walter Mosley, Jean Rhys, Sam Selvon, and Wole Soyinka. She has interviewed high-profile writers including Toni Morrison, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Ben Okri, judged the Booker Prize among others, and served on the boards of such organizations 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.

Margaret 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 honor and very humbling. What a roll-call of predecessors! Sad to realize that some of those I interacted with over the decades – such as Sonny, Peter and Deborah – 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 honor.

“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 predates 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, OBE, Editor, Critic and Broadcaster, commented, “Every single person of color working in publishing today is standing on the shoulders of this amazing woman. Margaret Busby epitomizes 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.”

Andy Ventris, director at The London Book Fair, 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 honor 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.”

David Roche, non-executive chairman, The London Book Fair commented, “The scope of Margaret Busby’s contribution across publishing is vast – as a young co-founder of Allison & Busby and as a successful editor, writer, playwright, much in demand judge, and tireless cultural activist. Through her work she has unstintingly promoted international authors, and the Daughters of Africa anthologies have promoted the writing of hundreds of women of African descent. No one has done more to promote diversity in publishing than her, and we are delighted to award the 2021 LBF Lifetime Achievement Award to Margaret Busby.”

The LBF Lifetime Achievement Award in International Publishing will be presented to Margaret Busby by authors Zadie Smith and Bernardine Evaristo at an invitation-only event in London on Friday 2nd July, 12-3 pm.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

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