The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books was founded by New Beacon Books, Race Today Publications and Bogle L'Ouverture Publications. All three were experienced in radical black publishing and international bookselling. Twelve Book Fairs took place in London between 1982 and 1995, with additional Book Fairs in Manchester, Bradford, Leeds and Glasgow. The Caribbean Peoples International Bookfair (1987-1988; 1992) was a related event organised by the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) in Trinidad.
The first Book Fair was held at Islington Town Hall, the second at Lambeth Town Hall and the third at Acton Town Hall. Each venue represented the base of New Beacon Books, Race Today Publications and Bogle L'Ouverture Publications respectively. From the fourth Book Fair onwards, the Camden Centre became the permanent London venue.
The Book Fairs brought together both national and international participants, especially from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Central America, the USA, Germany, France and Belgium. People came not only to exhibit, order and distribute books but also to take part in an accompanying festival of forums and events, which included readings of poetry and prose or a theatrical production, a concert and usually a film evening.
The Book Fair was introduced as "a meeting of the continents for writers, publishers, distributors, booksellers, artists, musicians, film makers and the people who inspire and consume their creative productions" (letter of invitation to the First International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books 1982).
John La Rose (New Beacon Books) and Jessica Huntley (Bogle L'Ouverture Publications) became Joint Directors and an Organising Committee was formed to plan and oversee each International Book Fair and Book Fair Festival. They were aided by dedicated volunteers who helped to co-ordinate all aspects of the event.
Both the Book Fair and the festival were designed to complement each other. Although the forums differed from year-to-year, there were recurring cultural, social and political themes such as publishing, women's writing, education and approaches to collective action. Major forums would be repeated at different venues, for example in Manchester and Bradford, although the panel of speakers would change thus generating a different debate with a fresh audience.
Exhibitions of photographs, documents or artwork served as a backcloth. Workshops were also held for school children. Background music was provided by the Peoples War Sound System, formed in 1975 by Michael La Rose. Close associations with the Carnival Movement led to the formation of the Peoples War Carnival Band in 1983.
Over time, Bogle L'Ouverture and Race Today withdrew from the Organising Committee and by 1995 much of the organising work was left to New Beacon. In 1997, John La Rose decided to retire as it was felt that the Book Fair in London could no longer continue in its existing form. In some respects, the International Book Fair had become a victim of its own success as it had advanced the cultural and political needs of participants and exhibitors to the point where the Book Fairs were no longer seen as indispensable.
Material from the International Book Fair collection has been reproduced in A Meeting of the Continents: The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books - Revisited: Histories, Memories, Organisation and Programmes 1982-1995. Edited by Sarah White, Roxy Harris and Sharmilla Beezmohun. Published by New Beacon Books in 2005 for the George Padmore Institute.