Margaret Yvonne Busby was born in 1944, Accra, Gold Coast (which is today known as Ghana). Margaret Busby left school age 15 and went on to study English at Bedford College, London University (which later merged with Royal Holloway College), graduating with a BA Honours degree at the age of just 20-years.
While still at university, Margaret Busby met her future business partner, Clive Allison, at a party and they decided to start their own publishing company. After graduating, Busby worked for a brief stint at the Cresset Press which was part of the Barrie Group. Meanwhile, she was setting up Allison and Busby (A&B), publishing their first books in 1967. The first novel published by A&B in 1969 was The Spook Who Sat by the Door by Sam Greenlee.
Setting up this new book publisher made Margaret Busby the then youngest publisher as well as being the first Black female book publisher in the UK. About this achievement, Busby said, “[I]t is easy enough to be the first, we can each try something and be the first woman or the first African woman to do X, Y or Z. But, if it’s something worthwhile you don’t want to be the only. …I hope that I can, in any way, inspire someone to do what I have done but learn from my mistakes and do better than I have done.”
Busby worked as Allison and Busby’s Editorial Director for 20 years, publishing many notable authors including; C.L.R. James, Jill Murphy, Hunter S. Thompson, James Ellroy, George Lamming, Miyamoto Musashi, and Florence Onyebuchi “Buchi” Emecheta. Following this, Busby was Editorial Director of Earthscan before she then pursued a freelance career as an editor, writer and literary critic.
As a journalist, Busby has written countless articles for the Guardian, predominately book reviews but she has also covered the obituaries of artists and activists including; Jessica Huntley, Buzz Johnson, Jayne Cortez, Jan Carew, Rosa Guy, Gwendolyn Brooks, June Jordan, Toni Cade Bambara, Florynce Kennedy, Barry Reckord, Frank Crichlow, Connie Mark, Glenn Thompson, August Wilson, Pearl Connor-Mogotsi, Geraldine Connor and Binyavanga Wainaina. What’s more, Busby has also written for The Observer,The Independent, The Sunday Times, the New Statesman and for other general press and specialist journals.
In 1992, Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writings by Women of African Descent from the Ancient Egyptian to the Present, compiled by Margaret Busby was published. The book was described by Black Enterprise, as “a landmark” as it featured contributions from more than 200 women in a variety of genres. In his article for Daily Nation (Kenya), Tom Odhiambo stated that the book contained works from “the matriarchs of African literature. They pioneered ‘African’ writing, in which they were not simply writing stories about their families, communities and countries, but they were also writing themselves into the African literary history and African historiography. They claimed space for women storytellers in the written form, and in some sense reclaimed the woman’s role as the creator and carrier of many African societies’ narratives, considering that the traditional storytelling session was a women’s domain.”
In 2019, Busby edited a follow-up book entitled New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent which featured another 200+ African writers. A reviewer in The Irish Times wrote: “Sometimes you need an anthology to remind you of the variety, strength and nuance of writing among a certain region or group of people. New Daughters of Africa is indispensable because African voices have been silenced or diminished throughout history, and women’s voices even more so.”
Connected to this 2019 anthology publication, the ‘Margaret Busby New Daughters of Africa Award’ was announced by the publisher in partnership with SOAS, University of London. The award was to benefit an African, female student.
Busby has also contributed to a number of other books over her career, including; IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain, If I Could Tell You Just One Thing…: Encounters with Remarkable People and Their Most Valuable Advice, and Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible.
During UK Black History Month, 2019, fellow author Zadie Smith said that Margaret Busby “has been a cheerleader, instigator, organiser, defender and celebrator of black arts for the past 50 years, shouting about us from the rooftops, even back when few people cared to listen. ‘We can because she did’ is a cliché but in Margaret’s case it is both true and no exaggeration. She helped change the landscape of both UK publishing and arts coverage and so many Black British artists owe her a debt. I know I do.”
This year, Margaret Busby, who is now in her mid-70s, was voted one of ‘100 Great Black Britons’ in a poll vote designed to celebrate the greatest Black Britons of all time. You can read more about all of the people who made the 2020 list, including Margaret Busby, in a book published this year under the same name.