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BHM Special | Titans of Black British Publishing

Titans of Black British Publishing

How should we respond when we look at the world around us and know that things must change?  Do we grumble with like-minded friends, maybe post something on the internet, attend a talk?  Or do we roll up our sleeves and get stuck into creating real change by founding and building organisations that make change inevitable?  Meet three women who did exactly that.

What a privilege and pleasure it was to interview Margaret Busby CBE, Hon FRSL, Susheila Nasta MBE, Hon FRSL and Verna Wilkins FRSL for our special podcast Titans of Black British Publishing.

They were modest and unwilling to blow their own trumpets, so we did that for them. Like all great pioneers they saw what was needed and created something to meet the need, overcoming the challenges that stood in their way.

Margaret was the UK’s youngest and first Black female publisher in the 1960s co-founding Allison and Busby.  Susheila Nasta launched the groundbreaking international literary magazine Wasafiri in 1984 and Verna Wilkins founded the children’s publishing house Tamarind Books in the 1980s and wrote many of its most successful titles.

One of the best parts of our jobs is researching our guests and coming up with the questions.  It’s not daunting per se, but with these three ladies, we wanted to make sure that we asked the “right” questions reflecting on their decades of experience.

It was fascinating to listen to them tell their stories about how they came to that “I’ve got to do this” moment. Lack of representation was a powerful catalyst for action. Their words resonated so strongly with us because we know, even today, particularly post Brexit and Covid, lack of representation of Black British and South Asian writers in the British canon is still an issue.  It’s exactly what motivated us when we decided to create The Amplify Project Podcast three years ago!

The strongest lesson we learnt was that progress is not linear and cannot be taken for granted: a victory won today may need to be fought for again in the future. But we also acknowledged that there have been real improvements over the decades since these pioneering ladies began laying the foundations on which the present Black British writers are building.

This episode is truly special. It left us uplifted and energized. Brilliant, determined, empathetic, modest women who were driven to make the kind of change that continues to impact British writers and readers today. Titans indeed.

Patricia Cumper & Pauline Walker

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