"The books that help you the most are those which make you think the most.” Theodore Parker

Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing

The following is a piece about the Bread and Roses prize – which bookshops of the ARB will be awarding in the new year – originally published in the Morning Star.


“As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day/A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts grey/Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses/For the people hear us singing: ‘Bread and roses! Bread and roses!'”

These lines in a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim were turned into a song, Bread And Roses, celebrating the 1912 textile workers’ strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, when a fifth of the US town’s population came out against a speed-up of production and a wage cut.

This was the first great industrial strike in the US, involving a largely women workforce who between them spoke 45 languages. The mill owners failed to divide the workers against each other in a strike for wages and human dignity.

Since then the term bread and roses has been used again and again by the left. It has provided the name for films, for workers’ co-operatives and magazines, while the Bread And Roses song has been sung on picket lines, benefits and celebrations and is part of the repertoire of many socialist choirs.

It seemed an obvious choice of a name for a new book prize – the Bread And Roses Award For Radical Publishing, now established by the Alliance Of Radical Booksellers.

Entries are coming in steadily for the first year’s award from radical publishers and from general publishers who also publish some radical books.

As yet the organisers are only looking for non-fiction, but that includes memoir, travel, documentary, reportage – anything that inspires, supports or reports on political and/or personal change, locally, globally or nationally and the books have to be accessible to the general reader.

Its aim is to raise the profile of radical publishing and writing in this country and, above all, to encourage people to read books by modern writers of the left.

There will be one winner, whose bank balance will benefit by the £1,000 prize, but the organisers will be promoting all the shortlisted books through the left press and the book trade.

It may not get as much publicity as the Booker Prize, but it should at least tell some people that radical publishing is alive and kicking.

Three judges will decide the first award. They come from across the spectrum. Michael Rosen is well known as a children’s poet and broadcaster and often speaks at demonstrations. Nina Power is one of a new generation of feminist writers, while Madeline Heneghan has a background in black politics and study and is the organiser of Liverpool’s Writing On The Wall Festival.

Books can be nominated up to the end of this year, after which a shortlist will be announced and the award will be presented around May 1 next year, appropriately, at the Bread And Roses pub in London – headquarters of the Workers’ Beer Company founded by the Battersea and Wandsworth Trades Union Council.

The Bread And Roses Award comes during a modest revival of radical publishing and bookselling, with three new radical bookshops opening this year in Durham, south London and Bristol and all the radical bookshops, new and second-hand, coming together in the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, the main sponsors of the prize.

The response from radical publishers in particular has been very enthusiastic.

Anne Beech from Pluto Press is one of those excited by the Bread And Roses award.

“The prospect of an alliance of radical booksellers awarding a prize is an enticing one, given that they represent some of the most passionate and committed booksellers on the planet!”

Visit www.bread-and-roses.co.uk for more information.

Comments are closed.