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UK's first black publisher and bookshop celebrates 50th year

ADDRESS: Professor Gus John

THE GEORGE Padmore Institute (GPI) will be organising a series of exciting events this autumn to celebrate the pioneering achievements of New Beacon Books since its formation in 1966.

Apart from its book trade, New Beacon Books has been at the centre of many ground-breaking political and social projects, organisations and campaigns. These include, among others: the Caribbean Artists Movement (1966-72), the International Book Fair of Radial Black and Third World Books (1982-1995), the New Cross Massacre Action Committee (1981) and the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya (1980s).

New Beacon’s ethos is to connect different generations of black, Asian and minority ethnic populations by passing on knowledge of BAME history via grassroots independent organisation and their ability to build strong foundations via committed networks. In doing so, they have paved the way for many important political, social and artistic organisations which exist today.

New Beacon’s success is testimony to the endeavour of the UK’s first and second generations from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia to transform British society into a place which, though far from perfect, is far more diverse, multicultural and tolerant than five decades ago.

The heart of the 50th anniversary celebrations is the appointment of a Poet in Residence for three months at the George Padmore Institute.

Black British poet Jay Bernard will explore the GPI’s unique archives (including the recently catalogued personal papers of New Beacon Books founder, John La Rose) and will produce a set of poems which creatively reflect on the archives she finds. Her poems will be published in a special commemorative booklet, which will also include an essay by Dr Ruth Bush on the early years of New Beacon’s publishing.

A major highlight is the International Poetry Night, recreating the spirit of the Black Radical Book Fairs, to be held at the British Library on December 3.

Jay will read her new poems alongside a diverse group of writers from around the world at an event compered by internationally acclaimed poet and GPI Trustee Linton Kwesi Johnson.

Preceding the poetry night, on the afternoon of 3 December, renowned activist and educationalist Professor Gus John will give a keynote speech on New Beacon Books, its work and legacy.

Sarah White, Director of New Beacon Books, said: “While New Beacon’s achievements deserve to be recognised and celebrated, both the GPI and NBB are very well aware that the world of books and publishing have changed enormously since 1966 and it is unrealistic to continue operating in the same old way.

“In 2017 New Beacon will be undertaking a reorganisation so its traditions and vision can continue into the future though not necessarily within the same structures.”

These celebrations, then, aided by an Arts Council England grant, mark the end of a crucial 50-year-old chapter in Black British history and the start of an exciting new era.

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