Margaret Busby: The Ghanaian Pioneer Publisher Who Amplified African Women’s Voices in Literature

by Joseph Omoniyi
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Margaret Busby, a trailblazing Ghanaian-born publisher, writer, and editor, has made indelible marks on the literary world. In 1967, she co-founded Allison and Busby, becoming the first Black female publisher in the UK at the age of 20. Her visionary leadership propelled the company to publish numerous significant writers over two decades. Busby’s legacy is perhaps best encapsulated by her landmark anthologies, Daughters of Africa (1992) and its expanded second edition, New Daughters of Africa (2019). These volumes celebrate the diverse voices of women of African descent, offering a literary mosaic that spans continents and generations.

Daughters of Africa emerged from Busby’s lifelong passion for literature and her commitment to amplifying marginalized voices. When the first volume was published, it was a groundbreaking compilation of over a thousand pages, showcasing the works of women writers who had been overlooked by mainstream literary circles. Busby’s approach was both inclusive and expansive, encompassing a wide array of genres and styles.

Reflecting on the anthology’s creation, Busby said, “When it was published in 1992, people would ask, ‘How long did it take to put this together?’ And I’d say, well, it either took me maybe 18 months or else it took me my whole life. Because, for as long as I was literate and interested in reading, I was collecting books and magazines.”

Busby’s work is rooted in a deep understanding of the systemic barriers faced by women, particularly women of African descent. She recognized early on that the literary landscape was predominantly male and Eurocentric, often excluding the voices of African women. “Back then you’d have thought there were only a few women of African descent who were writing, and they were all American,” Busby explained. “I wanted to say, well, they are there, they just haven’t been given the potential. I was trying to just share the space, the literary space.”

Her anthologies are not just collections of writing; they are acts of resistance and reclamation. They challenge the gatekeepers of the literary world and demand a more inclusive narrative. Busby’s work underscores the importance of representation and the need for women of African heritage to be involved at every level of the literary process.

Busby’s influence extends beyond her own publishing achievements. She has been a mentor and advocate for emerging writers, academics, editors, publishers, and critics. Her impact is seen in initiatives like the Margaret Busby New Daughters of Africa Award, which provides scholarships for African women to study at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. The award’s first recipient, Kenyan writer Idza Luhumyo, went on to win the prestigious Caine Prize in 2022, illustrating the ripple effect of Busby’s mentorship.

“I’d love to do another volume and another volume, because in both Daughters and New Daughters, I’m not saying these are the only people you should read,” Busby said. “And now there’s the internet, so people can go and do their own research and do their own anthologies.”

Margaret Busby’s journey is a testament to the power of determination and the importance of creating spaces for underrepresented voices. Her work has inspired countless others to challenge the status quo and pursue their passions despite societal barriers. As she continues to influence the literary world, Busby remains committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive literary community.

“You shouldn’t be put off by somebody saying, ‘Oh, you can’t do that, it’s not done…’” Busby advised. “There are reasons to believe that the whole tradition of storytelling is important to hold on to. Listening to other people, listening to the stories you’re told by your elders… It’s all part of something that we’re contributing towards.”

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