Allison & Busby

 Clive Allison and Margaret Busby in a London pub in 1967. Photograph courtesy of  Margaret Busby

Allison & Busby was founded in 1967 by Margaret Busby and Clive Allison. Busby was born in Ghana, of Trinidadian heritage. She met Clive Allison while studying at the University of London, leading to a successful business partnership. They published several poetry volumes on a part-time basis before committing themselves full-time to the publishing house from 1969. Busby describes their lack of knowhow in the early days:

We thought, everybody’s doing slim hardback volumes of poetry, so we’re going to do cheap paperbacks – so we printed 15,000 paperback poetry books, and with no distribution. Our distribution was stopping people in the street and saying, ‘do you want to buy a poetry book?’ (Interview)

Their breakthrough book was Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1969) which was turned into a successful film and remains in print today. It was printed by John Sankey at Villiers Press, while Busby herself made the cover, using Letraset transfers. Sam Greenlee (standing) and John La RoseAllison & Busby benefited from widespread press coverage, and were soon receiving up to fifty typescripts a week. This meant they straddled the parallel publishing circuits: sympathising with independents, such as New Beacon and Bogle-L’Ouverture, and exploiting the strategies of the mainstream publishers. Though Busby has a long-standing interest in black literature, having published Buchi Emecheta, Nuruddin Farah and C.L.R. James, she has also resisted the company being labelled a “black publisher” (Interview). She was not actively involved with CAM, nor with the political activism of the Black Parents Movement, but made a strong contribution to the Book Fairs and shared her broad experience with new publishers. Margaret Busby and John La Rose. Photograph courtesy of Margaret BusbyShe has campaigned for diversity in publishing since leaving Allison & Busby in 1987 (when it was bought out by Richard Branson’s W.H. Allen imprint) with initiatives such as GAP (Greater Access to Publishing), co-founded with Jessica Huntley. She continues to play an active role in promoting African and Caribbean writing, through her writing, consulting work, journalism and work with literary organizations and prizes (including Wasifiri magazine, the Caine Prize, the SI Leeds Literary Prize and the new Etisalat Prize in Nigeria).