17 November 2021
By Lottie Hazell
I joined the British Library over the summer to discover what can be learned from the data that is generated by the Library from the acquisition of legal deposit books. Specifically, I was interested in the data available on publications submitted using the Publisher Submission Portal (PSP). The PSP is used by publishers who produce fewer than 50 items per year, to deposit publications which exist only as digital copies. The Library was keen to explore this topic further as the UK has a very large number of publishers who fit this description, but it can be hard to find out about them.
Whilst I joined the library under the PhD placement scheme – I am currently researching a Creative Writing PhD at Loughborough University – it was my experience as a marketer in the publishing industry that drew me to the placement. The aim of this placement is to better understand the current behaviour and engagement of publishers using the PSP, examine the British Library’s current outreach strategies for Portal-eligible publishers, and inform recommendations to further support publisher engagement.
But who are the publishers that exist in the PSP? How representative are they of the small publishing landscape in the UK? And how can the British Library continue to grow the numbers of small publishers using the Portal? By the end of December – which is when my placement comes to an end – I hope to have answered these questions. To do this, I am gathering two primary forms of information: data about works deposited using the PSP and survey responses from publishers currently using the Portal.
By examining data from the PSP I will be able to determine publisher behaviour patterns, including frequency, quantity, and type of deposit. The decision to gather and process data that is readily available in British Library systems ensures that any analysis undertaken in this placement can be built upon in future library work.
The survey of publishers using the Portal will provide a fuller picture of how the Portal is serving its current users. Additionally, publishers will be also be asked where else they congregate with other publishers or peers in their industry so the British Library can ensure strong connections are fostered with as many small publishers as possible. The intended outcome of the survey is to inform a series of recommendations that will suggest how the British Library can engage new publishers, encourage frequent deposit, and ensure that small publishers are included and represented within the collection.
28 July 2021
The Refugee Dictionary, photo by Simon Jacobs, PA Wire
Today is the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Refugee Convention. The UN Refugee Convention, signed on 28 July 1951, defined who a refugee is in law and set out the human rights of women, men and children fleeing the horrors of war and persecution to seek safety in another country. It also set out the legal obligations of states to protect refugees.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (known as UN Refugee Agency or UNHCR) is the custodian of the Refugee Convention and works around the world to protect the rights and wellbeing of people forced to flee conflict and persecution. Their work includes responding to emergencies, providing access to essential services such as health care and education and also supporting the complex needs for refugees wanting to return to their homes. The charity UK for UNHCR helps raise funds and build awareness to support this work in the UK.
To mark the 70th anniversary, UK for UNHCR have created a very special dictionary to highlight the many personal experiences of refugees and their friends, families, colleagues and others. The Refugee Dictionary has been compiled from hundreds of definitions of just one word: ‘refugee’. The result is a powerful work, at times beautiful, recounting the experiences of fleeing persecution, hopes, building new homes and new relationships. Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing a joke or favourite food.
Examples of the definitions contained in The Refugee Dictionary include:
‘A refugee is the unexpected but joyful addition to my family. A surprise second son’ (Jane, Lewes)
‘the Asian family who fled Idi Armin’s Uganda. They arrived with just one small suitcase each, but in them they had gifts for us’ (Anne, Stourbridge)
‘Someone in search of what most of us take for granted’ (Andrew, Glasgow)
You can read all the definitions, including contributions from faith leaders across the UK, Lord Alf Dubs, Khaled Hosseini, and Emma Thompson, online at https://www.unrefugees.org.uk/refugeedictionary/
Emma Cherniavsky, UK for UNHCR CEO presents The Refugee Dictionary to Dr Xerxes Mazda, British Library Head of Collections and Curation. Photo by Simon Jacobs, PA Wire
Yesterday, a print copy – one of only two – was presented to us at the British Library, to add to our collections. We are honoured and delighted that UK for UNHCR chose us to hold a copy. The British Library is a place where we celebrate the written and spoken word, and the meanings that we give to them. Even more, The Refugee Dictionary and the Convention that has inspired its creation, speaks to our aim to ensure that our collections reflect the diversity of voices that make up published communication. That could be through fiction, poetry, song, blog posts, charity campaigns, the latest scientific papers or popular magazines.
Our collections have been influenced and enriched by the experiences of refugees and the work to protect the rights of refugees.
Our Oral History recordings include testimonies from people who fled persecution of Jewish people in Nazi Germany and during the Second World War. More information on these collections can be found at https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/oral-histories-of-jewish-experience-and-holocaust-testimonies
The Vietnamese Oral History project includes interviews with refugees from Vietnam to the UK, alongside interviews with refugee support workers. This collection, and others documenting refugee experience, is described at https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/oral-histories-of-ethnicity-and-post-colonialism
The British Library is a depository library for the United Nations, and provides access to the published documentary history of the UN and its agencies, including UNHCR. You can find out more about these collections, and find out how to access the many documents that are now freely available online, at https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/publications-intergovernmental-organisations
Our Social Welfare Portal provides access to reports and other information from a range of UK charities and agencies working to support the rights of refugees in the UK.
Our Contemporary British Publications reflect the growing range of academic research, news, commentary and creative expression on the experience of being a refugee. We are very pleased to add The Refugee Dictionary to this collection, marking the 70th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention.
10 June 2021
Join our panel discussions to discover more about researchers' experiences when navigating archives, as well as library, archive and museum collection policies related to the Olympics and Paralympics. This event has been organised by the British Library, the British Society of Sports History (BSSH), International Centre for Sports History and Culture (ICSHC) at De Montfort University, and the School of Advanced Study/CLEOPATRA project.
Horse Parade Grounds, The Mall, London 2012 Olympics, by Ank kumar - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99511834
This is a free, two day event, taking place online from 2pm- 4.30pm (BST) on Tuesday 6th July and Wednesday 7th July. It is for researchers, librarians, archivists, curators and anyone with an interest in the Olympic and Paralympic games and the study of sporting events.
Our speakers include Martin Polley (Director, International Centre for Sports History and Culture, De Montfort University), Vicky Hope-Walker (Chief Executive Officer, National Paralympic Heritage Trust) and Ian Brittain (Coventry University).
For a full programme, and to register, visit our Eventbrite page
What to expect
The event will feature discussion of a broad mix of physical, digitised and born digital resources relating to the Olympics and Paralympics, as well as how these collections have been used by researchers.
Participants will be able to ask questions and discuss issues pertaining to these resources and their use. The event is designed for anyone interested in the history and heritage of the Olympics and Paralympics, especially researchers and those working in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums sector.
The year 2020 was originally an Olympic/Paralympic year before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. It was also a significant milestone for the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC), of which the British Library is a founder member, as it marked 10 years since they first started archiving the Olympics. From 2012 they then started to archive both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The UK Web Archive has led collections on major sporting events, which compliment the Library's wider collections, and these can be browsed at https://www.webarchive.org.uk/en/ukwa/collection/2315.
This year, we are very pleased to bring together a great range of speakers to talk about the collections related to the Olympics and Paralympics that can be found in the UK, the challenges of collecting and the research that has been carried out across the archives. We hope that you will be able to join us.
01 March 2021
This post highlights a small selection of items in the Library’s collections of interest to anyone wanting to know more about the educators and activists behind the Black People’s Day of Action on 2nd March 1981.
On that day, around 20,000 people from across the UK marched from New Cross to Hyde Park, crossing Blackfriars bridge and bringing parts of central London to a standstill on a weekday. The demonstration took place six weeks after the devasting New Cross fire (also referred to as the Deptford Fire) that claimed the lives of 13 young black people at a house party celebrating Yvonne Ruddock’s 16th birthday and the 18th birthday of her friend Angela Jackson. In the face of official indifference, the march channelled the anger and grief of a community into a political action that marked a turning point for black people in Britain.
Poster held by the George Padmore Institute featured on the Library’s Windrush Stories website. The poster was not used once the death toll of 13 became clear. Another young person who experienced the trauma of the fire died two years later.
There are numerous accounts of the New Cross Fire and of the Black People’s Day of Action online, including Nadine White’s extended article, which is accompanied by a short film. The film gives voice to a survivor of the fire and three women who joined in organising the Day of Action. Commemoration leaves further traces online such as this event marking 30 years on the Black History Studies website. This year, UCL is marking the 40th anniversary with an event, podcast, and online exhibition of photographs.
Online events have given a wider reach to conversations and memorialisation, particularly where they have been recorded and made available for later listening. At a recent event made available through Westminster University’s ‘Black History Year’ site, Leila Hassan Howe, who was a member of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee, recalled the context to the Day of Action and spoke about her personal journey to activism.
What can resources in the Library add to the accounts available by searching online?
For anyone wanting to go further into this history, it’s no surprise that the Library holds books written by people involved in organising the Black People's Day of Action. The Library also holds some of the newsletters and journals produced at the time. A small number of oral history recordings held by the Library and some recordings of events are available online and can be accessed while the Library is still closed.
To pick out just two accounts in books, in Black British History: new perspectives, edited by Hakim Adi and published by Zed Press, Carol Pierre describes how the fire, along with the movement of solidarity afterwards left “an indelible imprint on a community”.
A detailed account is also given in Robin Bunce and Paul Field’s Renegade: the life and times of Darcus Howe. Bunce and Field describe the way Darcus Howe spoke at meetings across the north of England, accompanied by Gus John who was based in Manchester at that time. Gus John has held professorial positions including Associate Professor of Education at the UCL Institute of Education in London. In December 2016, Professor Gus John delivered the British Library Lecture ‘Changing Britannia through the Arts and Activism’ to mark 50 Years since the founding of New Beacon Books. This post describes the background to the event.
Renegade: the life and times of Darcus Howe. ELD.DS.110104 and YC.2018.a.2504
Nadine White’s article mentioned above shows how the organisation of the march marked a first step into political action for some of those involved. But many of the core group within the New Cross Massacre Action Committee had worked together as part of the Alliance linking the Race Today collective with the Black Parents Movement, Black Youth Movement and Bradford Black Collective.
An issue of Race Today featuring the Black Parents Movement. P.523/84
The Action Committee emerged from a meeting on 25 January 1981 in Lewisham. Led by John La Rose and Darcus Howe, it also included Leila Hassan and other members of the Race Today collective. Linton Kwesi Johnson and Farrukh Dhondy were part of the collective. Each of them feature extensively in the Library’s collections. As a group their actions were informed by an exchange of ideas and experience. They were engaged in teaching (mainly through supplementary schools), discussion groups, research, reading and publishing. The work of Trinidadian intellectual CLR James was an important influence.
The British Library holds much of this publishing output and also fosters research on these collections, particularly those that are harder to find elsewhere. In 2019 Emma Abotsi worked in the Library as British Sociological Association Fellow exploring independent community publications relating to education. This blog post describes one aspect of the work she did.
Currently, UCL doctoral student Naomi Oppenheim is working with the Library on a collaborative doctoral partnership focused on Caribbean diaspora publishing and activism. Naomi is leading on a project supported by the Eccles Centre to collect oral histories through conversations about Caribbean food shedding light on wider aspects of life, history and politics. She has recently written about the ‘Caribbean Foodways at the British Library’ project.
Selected publications and recordings by John La Rose, Darcus Howe, Leila Hassan Howe and Linton Kwesi Johnson
John La Rose
John La Rose (1927-2006), who founded New Beacon books (pictured in this Wasafiri article ) with Sarah White in 1966, was an educator, mentor and friend to the members of the organising committee. As a poet, writer, activist and publisher, John La Rose was at the heart of key movements advancing the cause of black people in Britain, in education, the arts and culture, for four decades. His works in the Library range from poetry, to interviews and newsletters.
The New Cross Massacre Story: interviews with John La Rose YK.2013.a.19831. This book is still available from the George Padmore Institute, along with The Black Peoples Day of Action 02.03.1981 (Café Press, 2020) by Vron Ware which contains contains black and white photographs taken by Vron Ware on the day.
New Beacon Reviews, first collection 1968-, P.901/409.
The Library holds a recording (C1172/14 and C1172/15) of John La Rose interviewed by Ron Ramdin (author of The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain, 1987, reissued by Verso in 2017). He can also be heard giving the welcome address, introductions and thanks on recordings from the International Book Fairs of Black Radical and Third World Books. These were ground-breaking events that John La Rose organised jointly with Jessica Huntley of Bogle L’Ouverture Publications between 1982 and 1995. (The Library also holds an oral history interview with Jessica Huntley and Eric Huntley, who jointly founded Bogle L’Ouverture publishing.)
On 2 March 2021, the George Padmore Institute launched its new website with a film about the Institute’s New Cross Massacre Action Committee archive collection.
The film Dream to Change the World: A Tribute to John La Rose, directed by Horace Ové can be viewed online.
Dream to change the world: the life and legacy of John La Rose. YK.2019.b.783
Born in Trinidad, Darcus Howe was a broadcaster, writer and racial justice campaigner. He edited Race Today and was chairman of the Notting Hill Carnival. Steve McQueen’s film Mangrove, part of the Small Axe series available on BBC iPlayer, dramatises Howe’s experiences as one of the 'Mangrove Nine', charged with “inciting a riot” following a demonstration in defence of the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill which had been targeted by police raids.
Darcus Howe: a political biography. Held by the Library at ELD.DS.79837 and YC.2014.a.8855. Bloomsbury have made this book available free online.
Many of Darcus Howe’s publications are held by the Library along with sound recordings from conferences and events. Although the Library tries to collect UK and Irish publications as fully as possible under Legal Deposit, some books are missed, as are many small-circulation magazines and newsletters. In writing this post, I have come across a small number of titles from the prolific output of people around Race Today, the Institute for Race Relations and the George Padmore Institute that the Library still needs to add to its collections.
From Bobby to Babylon was originally published in 1988, but is not held by the Library. It has recently been reissued and will be added to the collections when we return from lockdown.
Outside the Library, on British Library Sounds, you can listen to Darcus Howe discussing the work of CLR James with Farrukh Dhondy, recorded in 1992.
Leila Hassan Howe
Leila Hassan Howe can be found in the British Library catalogue under the name Leila Hassan. Her writing for Race Today is featured in the magazine and in an anthology published in 2019 by Pluto Press, and a booklet authored by Farrukh Dhondy to which she and British Black Panther member Barbara Beese contributed. The Library also holds poetry recordings introduced by Leila Hassan on behalf of Creation for Liberation Society and the Poetry Society. Recorded in London in 1985, they feature the poetry of Amryl Johnson, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker. Sadly, these fascinating recordings are only available in the Library.
Here to stay, here to fight: a Race Today anthology. ELD.DS.456429 and X.529/70862
The Black explosion in British schools, by Farrukh Dhondy with Leila Hassan and Barbara Beese. X.529/70862 63 pages.
Linton Kwesi Johnson
Linton Kwesi Johnson was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize in 2020 in recognition of his work. In making the award, the judges said:
‘Linton Kwesi Johnson is a poet, reggae icon, academic and campaigner, whose impact on the cultural landscape over the last half century has been colossal and multi-generational. His political ferocity and his tireless scrutiny of history are truly Pinteresque, as is the humour with which he pursues them.’
The presentation event, including an introduction by Paul Gilroy, was hosted by the British Library and can be viewed on the British Library player.
Voices of the Living and the Dead YD.2009.a.903
In 1974 Race Today / Towards Racial Justice published Linton Kwesi Johnson’s first poetry collection, Voices of the Living and the Dead. Between then and now his poetry has been published in print and recorded, performed over dub-reggae. These recordings (also held by the Library) were mostly in collaboration with producer and artist Dennis Bovell.
This exceptionally rich blog post by Sarah O'Reilly includes selections from her oral history interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson, held by the Library.
Dread poetry & freedom. ELD.DS.333758
I have flagged up just a few of the many publications held by the Library that shed light on the events of 1981, but for now the Library is closed and many of these books cannot be accessed. A number of independent bookshops feature an impressive range of titles available to buy or to access through public libraries.
Screengrab showing small selection of the non-fiction books available from New Beacon books.
The Londonist published a list of black owned bookshops in London, some of which sell online, and across the country members of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers may also stock these items. Presses such as Pluto and Verso sell online.
Open access books : Knowledge Unlatched
I noted above the biography of Darcus Howe made freely available by Bloomsbury. The Library is committed to open access publishing and is one of 630 libraries working with Knowledge Unlatched to make books freely available online to read and download. The books that are 'unlatched' cover a very wide range of disciplines and languages. The Knowledge Unlatched collection features some titles that are relevant to anyone interested in Britain’s black history, for example:
Heidi Safia Mirza: Young, Female and Black. (Routledge, 1992)
Colin Chambers: Black and Asian Theatre In Britain. (Routledge, 2020)
Gerald Horne: Paul Robeson: the artist as revolutionary. (Pluto, 2016).
The Black People's Day of Action marked a turning point in the challenge to racism in Britain. For those of us who remember these events, the sources of information above reveal far more than was reported by a hostile press. For those born later who approach these events as history, these sources may be a starting point to find out more and draw parallels with more recent experiences.
17 October 2019
The past is now: Examples of Britain’s anti-immigrant policies from independent Black and Asian community publications
'Our right to be here challenged ... what we should know' - articles in Mukti magazine, June- August 1983
Emma Abotsi, British Sociological Association Fellow at the British Library, writes
One of the most rewarding aspects of my research is calling up documents at the British Library and discovering a new collection of stories that tell me something about the world in which a particular document was created as well as how it relates to our society today.
Independent community publications from 1960 to 2018 form a large part of the archival materials I am using for my research. These consist of newspapers, magazines and booklets produced by Black and Asian community groups and activists in Britain that offered spaces where people were able to connect with others with similar lived experiences. In addition to articles about racism and other forms of social inequalities, discussions about anti-immigrant policies are a common topic in these publications.
For example, I discovered an article in the June-August 1983 issue of Mukti, a multi-lingual feminist magazine for Asian women, discussing changes to immigration rules in that year. The authors report that these new rules will impact the citizenship status of women and children, particularly from Black and Asian communities in the UK. The magazine includes information about groups that were being organised to campaign against these immigration laws and urged women to apply for citizenship in order to ensure that their children born after January 1983 will be UK citizens.
Around the same time as I was looking through the British Library’s collection of Mukti magazines, I came across this piece just as an interview with British-Nigerian Jazz artist, Bumi Thomas was published on BBC News in August 2019. In the interview, Thomas explains that she faces deportation from the UK despite being born in Glasgow in 1983. Her parents were unaware of the changes to the immigration laws that came into effect six months before her birth and assumed she had automatic citizenship rights like her older siblings. Thomas’ case highlighted the ongoing effects of such anti-immigrant policies and also how independent publications like Mukti served their communities in their attempts to keep people informed about these laws and to fight them. According to the BBC article, Thomas appealed against the Home Office decision to deport her and her case is due to be heard in October 2019.
As the numerous ongoing cases (including the Windrush Scandal) starkly reveal, struggles against issues such as anti-immigration laws and racism are sadly not confined to the particular historical moments that publications like Mukti were produced in; they are very much in the present and continue to have often dire consequences for people in this country today.
Mukti: Asian Women's Magazine, issue 1
09 April 2019
XKCD, “Click and Drag”. © Randall Munroe, 2012 https://xkcd.com/1110/
We're really excited to announce two new Collaborative Doctoral Awards for research into web comics, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. We are working with City, University of London and University of the Arts London to engage in new research on digital comics creation, reading and collecting in the UK.
This work will help us to understand collection management challenges for the diverse and innovative field of web comics in the UK. The knowledge generated by this research will not only help us to build collections of web comics, but will help those writing, reading, collecting and researching web comics. We will be able to apply the research more widely too, supporting our development as we explore complex digital publications through our work on Emerging Formats.
Understanding UK digital comics information and publishing practices: From creation to consumption
In partnership with City, University of London, this research will take a User Experience centred approach. It will examine the use of tools, technologies and sharing of information in the production, publication, collecting and reading of web comics. We're interested in what motivates people and how this informs their behaviour and use of particular technologies. Knowing the sorts of platforms and tools people use will help us prioritise and plan our own collections and collection management requirements. More importantly, knowing what's important to people in how they choose to create, share, and read web comics will help us understand what's important in building our collections.
At City, University of London this PhD will be supervised by Dr Ernesto Priego and Dr Stephann Makri at the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design. Ernesto is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship. His research covers a wide range of themes on digital and print comics, and also digital information management practice. Stephann's work focuses on information and behaviour in digital contexts. His research has covered legal information and news, as well as how readers work with libraries and archives.
Collecting UK Digital Comics: social, cultural and technological factors for cultural institutions
In partnership with the University of the Arts London, this research will investigate the form and content of digital comics, exploring the differences between comics that are adaptive, hypertextual, interactive, multimedia, motion based and experimental. It will look at how cultural institutions respond to innovative digital material, and the cultural, social and ethical questions that inform collection building. There are strong links between the characteristics of digital comics, and other types of innovative publication we are considering under our Emerging Formats work. The collection management challenges are not solely technological, and this research will help us understand the wider cultural and social questions that influence the way that digital comics can be represented and used within the Library.
At the University of the Arts London, this PhD will be supervised by Professor Roger Sabin and Dr Ian Hague, and the student will be able to join the newly-formed Comics Research Hub. Roger is the author of Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels (Phaidon, 1996) and is series editor for Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels. His work has helped establish the academic field of Comics Studies in the UK. Ian's research has been on the form of digital comics and cultural and social studies of comics. He is the director of the Comics Forum annual conference.
The awards support fees and provide a stipend for 3 years for the PhD student. More details on how we work with PhD students can be found on our Research Collaboration pages.
05 October 2018
For the past few months, we've been working behind the scenes with Comichaus to help us collect more UK independent comics. From 1st October, we're able to start collecting. Here is what we are doing, and why ...
Independent comics in the UK reflect a huge range of energy and diversity, and are influential on other types of writing and expression. This was very clear both in the line up at this year's Thoughtbubble festival in Leeds, and also the Comics Forum - where comics art and writing could be found across healthcare, archaeology, local history and autobiography (as well as Victorian magic, space villains and giant robots). But, collecting independently published comics is a challenge. While the Library does receive comics from many independent creators, not all people who make and distribute their comics think of themselves as publishers, or that they should be submitting their work to the British Library, or know how to do this. Information about independently published comics is generally not available in the same way as for books with ISBNs, so it’s hard for us to know what is available to collect.
So, over the past year, Comichaus has been working with the British Library to ensure that digital comics submitted to the Comichaus app can also be sent to the British Library (with the publisher’s consent) in fulfilment of Legal Deposit obligations. This helps the Library ensure that its collections reflect the diversity of UK independent comics, ensures that the comics will be preserved long-term, and means that they are available and discoverable in the Reading Rooms of the British Library and the five other UK Legal Deposit Libraries (the National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales, Bodleian Library at Oxford University, Cambridge University Library and the Library of Trinity College Dublin).
We're excited to see the first digital comics arrive in this way, and look forward to watching our collections of UK comics expand with more digital comics. Our work with Comichaus is one example of the ways in which digital legal deposit helps us extend the breadth of our collecting for UK publications. You can find out more about how legal deposit works on our new web pages at https://www.bl.uk/legal-deposit
01 September 2017
A guest post by Kadija George
Kadija George, FRSA is a Birmingham University alumni and currently an AHRC/TECHNE scholarship PhD candidate at Brighton University researching Black British Publishers. She is the Publications Manager for Peepal Tree’s Inscribe imprint, an editor of several groundbreaking anthologies and publisher of SABLE LitMag. She is a Fellow of the George Bell Institute and a Fellow of the Kennedy Arts Centre of Performance Arts Management.
Why do we need Black publishers if one of our societal objectives is to nurture a diverse society in Britain? Because diversity is paralleled with having options; we need gay publishers, women publishers as well as Black publishers.
This does not mean though that Black publishers (or any other ‘minority’ publisher) should be eschewed as being ghettoised, but rather as specialised. Therefore, when Shappi Khorsandi, withdrew her longlisted novel, Nina Is Not OK, for consideration for the Jhalak Prize, saying that, she “felt like my skin colour was up for an award rather than my book” [i] , she assumed that being nominated for the prize would place her in a category that would stigmatise her or limit her audience, yet such prizes highlight the books for what they are – good work, well written. With just 51 books being nominated though, it should shame the mainstream white dominated publishing industry in Britain into doing better with regards to publishing Black writers; an estimated 184,000 books were published in 2013 in the UK. [ii]
Aside from this, there are five broad reasons rationalising the need for, and increased awareness of Black publishers:-
Black publishers take on writers without shock or stereotype. If a writer approaches a Black publisher with a ‘thirty something’ love story between a devout Muslim and a devout Christian who live happily ever, this does not present a story that is unrealistic to a Black publisher; they understand that it is an ordinary part of everyday life (which means that Black writers' work is humorous at times, too). These are black lives, and they matter without the need to challenge the writer’s credentials, their authenticity or the need to be validated by white expertise.
They are also often the only ones willing to take the risk to publish work that is viewed as ‘experimental’, giving the writer permission to be who they are, to write what they want. The best of such work, which often does not easily fit into any one genre is published by independent Black press or is self-published, such as Walter Moseley’s The graphomanic’s primer: a semi surrealist memoir (Black Classic Press) or Tim Fielder’s Matty’s Rocket, (dieselfunk.com).
Secondly, publishing is more than the physical product for Black publishers as there is the equal need to educate the Black community. This was contained in John La Rose’s 'Dream to Change the World' when he established New Beacon Books in 1966.
Those who migrated to Britain in the 1950’s, who were to become publishers, were equally activists in the community. Social justice work was an integral aspect of their work, supporting the lives of those of African descent who (im)migrated to Britain from the West Indies, Africa and Asia and for the human rights of communities and activists abroad who were under attack, such as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Angela Davies (West Indian Digest, Vol. 1, no 8, Nov/Dec 1971). They were at the forefront of campaigns such as the New Cross Massacre (The New Cross Massacre Story (New Beacon 1981), and challenged authorities regarding the murder of Stephen Lawrence - Black Deaths in Police Custody and Human Rights: The Failure of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry by David Mayberry (Hansib Publications, 1993).
The New Cross Massacre Story (New Beacon 1981)
The third factor is that they are information providers, utilising the pamphlet as a tool to send out political and social messages, such as the Pan African Association in 1898 announcing the need for a conference to address the dire position of black people in the world. The practical outcome was the first Pan African conference in 1900. Similarly, informing the community of how West Indian children were being (dis)educated in British Schools sparked a movement that started in late 1960’s and carried on until the mid-1980’s that comprised establishing supplementary schools and led to associations of black professionals and the black family to reverse this situation. How the West Indian Child is made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System (1971) by Bernard Coard (New Beacon) originated as a paper at a conference.
Fourthly, black publishers claim and re-claim the printing of classic texts that may otherwise have remained invisible. New Beacon’s re-publishing Froudacity by JJ Thomas (1969) with an introductory essay by CLR James, ‘The West Indian Intellectual’ are two classic works between one cover. Walter Rodney’s The Groundings with My Brothers, was originally printed on a Gestetner, by Bogle L’Ouverture (1969), a title which, along with his next book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa(1972), remain in high demand.
Froudacity / JJ Thomas (1969)
Finally, Black publishers ensure the visibility of Black people’s lives in British history.
Not telling the Black British story denies all British people of their true history:
…the idea of not accepting inhibiting traditions, but being constantly inventive and novel; because one of the problems I can see facing West Indians in Britain in future, is the inhibiting tradition of the education system. This not only affects West Indians as you all ready realise, but ordinary Britons, but it is the rupture of the traditions which underline this tradition which will be important... (John La Rose – letter to Kamau Brathwaite - 24 Feb 1969 - GPI Institute GB2904 LRA/01/143/04)
This underlines the work undertaken by David Olusaga in his TV series and accompanying book, Black and British, A Forgotten History (shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize) in which he disrupts the telling of British history. His core point is this; it is not possible to tell British history without telling the story of Black British history which is not just about the people who live(d) in Britain, but those in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia too. When Britain became an empire, their colonies would forever be a part of British history. This history includes the history of the book. Olusaga also pointed out that it is novels such as Andrea Levy’s Small Island that tell important aspects of Black history. [iv]
This is why the ‘Bringing Voices Together’ networking event is needed, because the British Library is surely the first place for people to visit to find out about the history of the book in Britain, and that history needs to ensure the inclusivity of the history of Black British books and publishers, so that it is not as Olusaga says, a ‘deliberately forgotten’ history. (David Olusaga, Brighton University, 30 November 2016)
Related links: All about African publishers
Social Science blog recent posts
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- Hundreds of definitions for a big word: The Refugee Dictionary comes to the British Library
- Documenting the Olympics and the Paralympics, 6- 7 July
- History in the Making: 40 years on from the Black People’s Day of Action
- The past is now: Examples of Britain’s anti-immigrant policies from independent Black and Asian community publications
- Two new PhD opportunities for Web Comics
- More digital comics!
- Bringing Voices Together: the importance of independent Black publishing