Margaret Busby was born in Ghana and educated in the UK. She became the first black woman publisher – and, at the time, the youngest publisher – in Britain when she co-founded Allison and Busby in 1967. Two years later she made history by publishing Sam Greenlee’s much-rejected novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door, which became required reading at the FBI Academy and is thought to have inspired the Blaxploitation genre in American cinema. Other Allison & Busby authors included C.L.R. James, Rosa Guy, Michael Moorcock, Buchi Emecheta, Nuruddin Farah, B. Traven, James Ellroy, Nuruddin Farah and J.G. Ballard.
An independent editor, writer, broadcaster and critic since the 1990s, Margaret has contributed to many publications – including The Guardian, The Observer, New Statesman and TLS – and judged numerous literary prizes, including the Caine Prize, the Commonwealth Book Prize, the Orange Award for New Writers and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Her writing for the stage includes Sankofa (1999), Yaa Asantewaa – Warrior Queen (2001) and An African Cargo (2007), and her radio adaptations comprise work by Jean Rhys, Wole Soyinka, Sam Selvon and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
In 1992, Margaret compiled the pioneering anthology Daughters of Africa, which brought together writing by more than 200 women of African descent. Her follow-up, New Daughters of Africa, added another 200 writers and was published to great acclaim last year. All 200 contributors to that volume donated their fees in order to set up a new scholarship for a black, female student ordinarily resident in Africa to do a postgraduate degree in Literature or Translation at SOAS, University of London.
A long-time cultural activist, Margaret has worked continuously for diversity within the publishing industry. She has been awarded the Royal Society of Literature’s prestigious Benson Medal, and the Royal African Society’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award. She was appointed OBE for services to literature and publishing in 2006.
In the late 1980s Margaret rented her flat in Notting Hill to the young Ben Okri, who wrote his first novel there; The Famished Road went on the win The Booker Prize in 1991.