Pioneering publisher Margaret Busby says industry still needs more diversity

She co-founded pioneering publishing house Allison and Busby in the 1960s.

Publisher and editor Margaret Busby has said the industry still requires “so much change” in terms of diversity.

Ghana-born Busby, who was Britain’s youngest and first black female book publisher, said she had seen improvements in her lifetime but that it remained important for readers to be offered a variety of voices.

In the 1960s, she co-founded with Clive Allison the Soho-based publishing house Allison and Busby, working with an eclectic list of authors including James Ellroy, Michael Horowitz and Jill Murphy.

Host Lauren Laverne and Margaret Busby (BBC/PA)

Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, she said: “I think there is so much change that needs to be done still. Of course, there has been change.

“I think it is important that you get different people choosing the stories because you get different people consuming the stories as well.

“It is not that I only read books by black women. I read books by all sorts of people. It is not that people who write only write about themselves.

“I think you have to look at it in terms of, ‘Why would you only eat spinach if you can also eat chocolate?’ And they are both good for you.”

Busby, who chaired the 2020 Booker Prize judging panel, praised the “different perspectives” of the judges, who selected Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart as the winner.

She told host Lauren Laverne: “I think you have to give credit to the people who chose the judges because it was a very diverse group of judges – diverse in terms of that fact it had people of different ages, people from different areas, different backgrounds.

The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition 2015
The Duchess of Cornwall and Margaret Busby at an award ceremony at Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition 2015 (Paul Rogers/The Times/PA)

“People who were readers, people who were editors, people who were reviewers, people who were writers.

“So we all came together from different perspectives and we were all looking to agree on what we thought was the best book.

“But it was wonderful to find that we all did agree on the longlist, the shortlist and the eventual winner.”

She also recalled starting out in publishing during the 1960s and described herself and her colleagues as “mavericks”.

Busby worked closely with authors including Sam Green, Guyanese writer Roy Heath and fantasy writer Michael Moorcock.

“That was the sort of thing that made it worthwhile,” she said.

“We could do things because we believed in them, that other people were not doing because they either didn’t know or they had different perspectives on the world.

“There were people that came to us because they knew we were mavericks, if you like.”

Her musical choices included calypso song Haiti I Am Sorry by David Rudder, 7 Seconds by Youssou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry, and Nina Simone’s version of My Baby Just Cares For Me.

Desert Island Discs airs on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds at 11am on Sunday.

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