Radical Bookselling History Newsletter6 is now out – a bumper edition. You can download it from here, or by clicking the image above. (Note – we expect the Newsletter to be uploaded later today so if you get an error message please try again later.)
In this issue:
Reports and images from last November’s Quiet Revolutions conference and book fair, at which many of you signed up for the Newsletter, along with a reprint of Ken Worpole’s New Statesman article prompted by the event.
A long article about Anarchist Papers, Publishing and Bookshops, by Dave Cope, starting from two books: Rob Ray’s A Beautiful Idea: History of the Freedom Press Anarchists and Albert Meltzer’s autobiography I Couldn’t Paint Golden Angels, representing two different trends of anarchism.
Articles on Grass Roots Books, the researching and writing of that article and the creation of a Wikipedia entry for Publications Distribution Co-operative.
Lucy Brownson telling the story of Sheffield’s radical bookshops.
A review by Ross Bradshaw of Queer Print in Europe.
Our regular features of short announcements – including several links to online bookshop histories – and, inevitably, more obituaries.
An announcment of Ross Bradshaw’s talk ‘Changing the World One Book at a Time: a short history of radical bookselling’, which he’s giving on Thursday May 18th, 7pm at Nottingham Trent University. The talk is part of the Periodicals and Print Culture Research Group’s Radical Print Summer School: we hope to bring you a report in our next issue. More information about the Summer School here and tickets for Ross’s talk here. We apologise (especially to Ross) for the late notice about this event, caused by a delay in producing the Newsletter.
As always, we welcome any comments on this Newsletter, or previous issues, and suggestions for future articles or features.
Bread & Roses Award for Radical Publishing 2022 Winner Announcement
TIME:29.11.2022 : 18:00 – 19:00
Koshka Duff, Florian Grosset, Hsiao-Hung Pai, Rhian E Jones & A Contributor To Empire’s Endgame
The Bread and Roses Award is a book prize with a difference: presented by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, and without the backing of corporate sponsors, the award seeks to recognise and celebrate excellence in the field of radical political non-fiction.
2022 marks 100 years since the Bread and Roses strike of 1912 and 10 years since the Award was established by Housmans in 2012. It has since been run in collaboration with Five Leaves Bookshop and then us at Lighthouse.
From almost 70 submissions, our panel of judges are thrilled to present a shortlist of 5 titles, and at this event to announce the winner we will hear from the authors and editors of all 5 shortlisted books! Come find out more about 5 tremendous books from those who brought them into the world:
Abolishing the Police, Ed Koshka Duff from Dog Section Press
Ciao Ousmane: The Hidden Exploitation of Italy’s Migrant Workers, Hsiao-Hung Pai from from Hurst
The Chagos Betrayal : How Britain Robbed an Island and Made Its People Disappear, Florian Grosset from Myriad Editions
Empire’s Endgame, Gargi Bhattacharyya et al from Pluto Press
Paint your town red, Matthew Brown and Rhian E Jones from Repeater Books
This event will last 1 hour online, we’ll get a wee introduction to each book, an opportunity to ask speakers questions and then we’ll announce the 2022 Winner of the Bread & Roses Award live!
To attend this event please follow the link to Lighthouse Bookshop in Edinburgh who are coordinating the prize this year:
Join us as we host a book fair, discussions and workshops exploring the legacies and futures of radical bookselling.
Radical bookshops, once found in every major town and city, are spaces of possibility and resistance, offering quiet browsing, public discussions and encounters between writers, readers and activists.
Quiet Revolutions will see the Barbican Library host a bookfair with stalls from Britain’s best-known radical bookshops including Housmans, New Beacon Books, Gay’s The Word, Five Leaves and Newham Bookshop along with radical publishers and organisations Verso and Bishopsgate Institute.
Two panel discussions will include addresses and interventions on activism and books from historians and writers such as Sheila Rowbotham and Farrukh Dhondyalong with key figures from the radical book world of the 1970s and 80s such as Ken Worpole of Centerprise and Jane Cholmeley of Silver Moon.
12–2pm – Lino Printing Workshop Explore how to make a linocut print from start to finish using the history of radical book covers. Led by Gemma Curtis @wildwaterartstore
2-3pm – Talk: Radical Bookshops Present, Barbican Library Jim MacSweeney (Gay’s the Word) Vivian Archer (Newham Bookshop) Nik Górecki (Housmans) Meera Ghanshamdas (Roundtable Books) Ray Larman(The Bookish Type) Ross Bradshaw (Mushroom Books/Five Leaves)
5-6.30pm, Talk: Radical Bookshops Past, Auditorium I Ken Worpole (Chair) Sheila Rowbotham (Historian) Farrukh Dhondy (Writer & Race Today Collective), Jane Cholmeley (Silver Moon) Lynn Alderson (Sisterwrite) Michael La Rose (New Beacon)
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More inspiring news as two more bookshops join the ARB!
Back To Books in Birmingham aims to provide a platform for diverse voices, with a focus on queer, feminist, anti-racist and Birmingham-centric titles. The shop can be found at Red Brick Market in Digbeth, and there’ll be a new website launching very soon at https://www.backtobooks.co.uk/. Back to Books could really do with hand up – please do have a look at their crowdfunder: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/back-to-books
PaperxClips in Belfast, Northern Ireland is a queer bookshop, gender inclusive barbershop, cafe, and community space. The vision is to provide the queer community in Northern Ireland with access to radically inclusive literature, gender affirming services, as well as a meeting and hangout space which does not require spending money to exist in. https://www.paperxclips.com
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“The Queery is a co-op in Brighton, UK, owned and run by its members, whose main focus is the benefit of the local queer community. It’s run in a non-hierarchical way by different collectives of volunteers, with solidarity at its heart. A space for queers, by queers.
The Queery is a wheelchair-accessible sober space that’s home to a radical and queer bookstore, a small library, a small vegan café, and it’s available to hire for workshops, talks, classes, meetings, support groups, open mics, film nights and more!
Bills and wages will be paid with the sale of stock and food, but nobody will ever be turned away. The space will always be available to everyone. The library will be there for anyone to enjoy, the café will sell food with prices on a sliding scale and we will have a Pay It Forward scheme for those who need it.
We want a space where all queers can feel safe and welcome, a place where we can find freedom and belonging, our own little corner in this hostile world. To achieve this, The Queery will have a zero tolerance policy on homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, fatbophia, xenophobia, racism, ableism. We believe in the abolition of binaries, borders, prisons, the state and capitalism. No-one is free until we’re all free.”
We are delighted that New Beacon Books, specialists in African and Caribbean literature since 1966, have joined the ARB! Following a crowdfunding campaigns in January 2022 New Beacon are currently considering their next step so as to keep the shop thriving into the future. We hope the ARB can play our part in making that happen.
The Story of New Beacon Books
New Beacon Books was founded in 1966 by John La Rose and his partner Sarah White. New Beacon was the UK’s first black publisher, specialist bookshop and international book distributor. For over 50 years New Beacon Books has made available to Britain and its communities, poetry, literature, non-fiction, history and children’s books from Africa, Caribbean, Asia, African America, Europe, South America and Black Britain.
New Beacon was inspired by John La Rose’s advanced political and cultural vision derived from experience in the Caribbean and South America. These ideas were stated clearly in New Beacon catalogues. “Growing up in a colonial society made John La Rose acutely aware that colonial policy was based on a deliberate withholding of information from generation to generation. There was also discontinuity of information from generation to generation. Publishing therefore was a vehicle to give an independent validation to one’s own culture, history, politics – a sense of self – and to make a break with discontinuity”.
New Beacon was never just a book business. As a publishing house, New Beacon has produced an important body of publications. Our titles are available from this website. For 30 years, New Beacon Books was run by Sarah White and Janice Durham, with the regular assistance of John La Rose and his son Michael La Rose. New Beacon always had and still has the commitment of volunteers like Claire Shepherd, Barbara Beese, Lorine Burt, Rawle Callender, Tony Wallis, Pat Harris and Leleith Duncan.
New Beacon Books now works with a new group of volunteers. The bookshop has been at the centre of many ground-breaking political and social projects, organisations and campaigns including the George Padmore and Albertina Sylvester Supplementary Schools, Caribbean Artists Movement (1966-1972), CECWA campaign against putting black children in Educationally Sub Normal (ESN) schools, The International Book Fair of Radial Black and Third World Books (1982-1995), the Black Parents Movement and Black Youth Movement, who campaigned against police racist brutality and fit-ups (1975- 1990s), the Alliance, the New Cross Massacre Action Committee (1981 ), the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya (1980s), George Padmore Institute GPI; archive of the struggle of people of African, Caribbean and Asian descent in Britain (1991) and European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice (1990s).
After celebrating 50 years of achievement in 2016 the directors of New Beacon Books recognised that New Beacon bookshop, as it was currently organised, could not economically survive. The modern book industry with new ways of buying and reading books like Amazon and Kindle, and the formation of super publishers and distributors was killing independent specialist bookshops like New Beacon. There was a national movement of independent Black bookshops which included Bogle L’Ouverture (Walter Rodney Bookshop), Grassroots, Head Start and Sabaar Bookshop that have not survived to today.
The directors took the decision to close New Beacon Bookshop. This was announced at the celebration of 50 years of New Beacon Books at the British Library. They calculated that it would take a while to clear stock and reorganise the bookshop. At the beginning of 2017 a group which included Janice Durham (director), Michael La Rose (director), Renaldo La Rose (John’s grandson) and his wife Vanessa La Rose decided they would attempt to keep New Beacon Bookshop going. The individuals came together as the New Beacon Development Group which included Gloria Cyrus. Calling on volunteers and voluntary work, in the New Beacon tradition, the group reopened the bookshop (temporarily) from Wednesday to Saturday between 1.30pm and 6pm in February 2017. The remit of the group has been to make New Beacon Bookshop survive and explore a new economic model to sustain its survival and raise New Beacon’s profile with a new generation of social media activists, students, educationalist, parents and children.
With the aid of social media, the community responded in force with some donating their time and services. A crowd funding campaign to raise money to reconfigure the bookshop space, upgrade the IT system and build a website in our battle for survival; was launched in March 2017. This raised £12,500 and has allowed us to start the work and provide the tools to attempt to find sustained financial viability. We wish to thank all those who have contributed to our exciting project and for supporting our attempts to make New Beacon Bookshop survive for the future.
In January 2022 New Beacon came under threat of closure again and a very succesful crowdfunding appeal was launched. An administrative group will be set up to ensure the expenditure of the crowdfunding monies is accountable, transparent and used solely for the purposes publicly stated.
There will be no quick fix in these uncertain times. New Beacon Books will carefully consider all options for the difficult aim of developing a realistically sustainable and viable future.
New Beacon Books will need your continued support to survive into the future. New Beacon Books needs you, as well as the younger generation, elders and students to visit the bookshop, order books on the website or by email. Get literature, poetry, gain knowledge and ideas. Invite New Beacon Books to provide bookstalls for your events, schools and places of work. Support New Beacon Books’ events and campaigns. Register your contacts on New Beacon Books’ website and we will keep you updated. New Beacon Books’ future will depend on your support.
The crowdfunding has been a huge success and shows what is possible and it proudly expresses our collective values. It has given New Beacon Books an important lifeline and has increased its options. A great achievement.
New Beacon Books would like to sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to the crowdfunding and has offered assistance.
In 2019 we – Dave Cope, John Goodman, Rick Seccombe and Maggie Walker – organised a conference on the history of radical bookselling 1970-2000. Our aim was to celebrate the phenomenon of radical bookshops and begin to assess their impact, record their history and preserve what records remain. We invited as many people as we could trace who’d worked in the 100 or so radical bookshops and distributors that existed over that period, plus a few who were still in the much-reduced trade. In February 2020 we published an illustrated report of the conference in pdf format. It is DOWNLOADABLE HERE.
At the conference we undertook to produce an occasional newsletter. In this post you will find newsletters one and two. We hope you enjoy reading it. Its future depends on your reactions and what you send us. We need snippets of news, queries, notes about any existing appropriate websites, blogs, archives, obituaries, publications, short biographies, notes on bookshops, reviews, works in progress and so on. Information on new shops would be most welcome. While the emphasis will be on bookshops we welcome material on publishers, distributors, printers, typesetters, designers, cartoonists, photographers, libraries and archives.
Newsletter Issue 4, May 2022 CONTENTS Editorial News Items, Old Items, Obits and Odd Bits Mushroom Book Events Remembered A Bookshop For All – Newham Books William Cobbett 1763-1835 The Radical Internet Of Its Day: The Story of PDC part 2
CONTENTS Editorial Publications Distribution Co-operative: The Early History A PDC Day – Repping in Birmingham PDC – A Bookseller Remembers My Time at The Independent Bookshop – Sheffield Richard Carlile 1790-1843 Trouble at Mushroom Review: The Radical Bookstore: counterspace for social movements Bits and Bobs News and Links Obituaries
Newsletter Issue 2, April 2021 CONTENTS Editorial Buying New Books Online News Items, Old Items, Obits And Odd Bits Obituaries Collets Days Of Hope Books About Radical Bookshops Housmans: 60 Years Of Books And Activism In Other Words Grass Roots
Issue 1, August 2020 CONTENTS • Editorial • Photographs • Oral histories • Records and archives • Bookshops listing • Bookshop (and distributor) histories • New items, old items, obits and odd bits • Branching out • Thomas Spence: A history
Its very cheering to see so many new radical bookshops not only opening but thriving. We’re happy to announce nine new members of the ARB, with the latest member Lockdown Books literally opening its doors for the first time today (23/04/21). If you’re ever in their area do pop in and give them your support – and of course many have well-stocked online shops too.
Shelflife Books and Zines in Cardiff are not-for-profit booksellers focused on making space for marginalised voices, stocking books from independent, micro- and self- publishers. https://www.shelflifebookshop.com/
The Second Shelf in London is a snug independent bookstore focusing on works by women, including rare & first editions. https://www.thesecondshelf.com
Wrecking Ball Music and Books in Hull is a record and bookshop with a focus on literary works, especially the often neglected poetry and short stories, and an ever-expanding stock of left-wing political books and pamphlets https://wreckingballstore.co.uk
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With bookshops closed for much of the last year many of us have turned to online book-buying. New platforms such as hive.com and bookshop.org have sprung up as rivals to Amazon and some independent booksellers have their own online sales web pages. We thought it would be useful to look into how we can best support radical booksellers in this online world.
The best thing you can do is to buy direct from an ARB member. Most of them have websites and many of those have a ‘shop’ tab or similar for online buying. The shop will send you your books in the post and some have a click & collect option for customers who can come to the shop. Where the shop doesn’t have a website, ring them up to order (and pay) over the phone.
Where that’s not possible, the next best option is the independent https://uk.bookshop.org/, (a ‘B Corp’). What’s crucial, however, is to choose a shop first from the ‘choose a bookshop’ tab. You will find many of the ARB members there. Once you’ve done that the shop will receive 30% of what you pay. If you don’t choose a shop first and instead go straight to browse, find the book and order it, ‘your order will contribute to an earnings pool that will be evenly distributed among independent bookshops’.
Hive, another alternative to Amazon, is less generous to booksellers than bookshop.org. It is part of Gardners, the UK’s dominant wholesaler of books and related products. As an incentive to customers wanting to support independent booksellers, after you’ve bought something from them, you choose a bookshop and they give the shop a percentage of your money. They’re rather coy about the percentage, but it’s never more than 8%, well short of bookshop.org.
We’d be pleased to hear from our readers if you know of other ways to buy remotely from radical booksellers during lockdown – and once it’s over too, because we hope that the habit will persist for those of you who for whatever reason can’t visit a radical bookseller in person.
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Ross Bradshaw, activist, publisher and writer, was recently
invited to Haarlem in The Netherlands to speak about radical bookselling. He
knows his trade, which is why Nottingham’s Five Leaves Bookshop, which he
founded in 2013, was named Independent Bookshop of the Year at the 2018 British
Book Awards. The following article was
the basis for the talk that he gave.
Changing the world, one book at a time
by Ross Bradshaw
In 1984, the Federation of Radical Booksellers published Starting a Bookshop: a handbook on radical & community bookselling. The radical booktrade in Britain was in its pomp, with its own regular printed journal, The Radical Bookseller, and a reviews journal, News from Neasden. The book exuded confidence. The cover featured logos of bookshops across the country — York Community Bookshop, SisterWrite, First of May Bookshop, Lavender Menace (surely the best bookshop name ever), Oakleaf, The Other Bookshop, Single Step, The Smiling Sun, Mushroom, Lamp, Bookmarks … One chapter missing from an otherwise detailed book was on how to close a bookshop. All the shops and distributors on the cover would come to that point, save for Housmans and Bookmarks of London and News from Nowhere in Liverpool, the great survivors.
Six years later, I wrote an article in Tribune, at the time a weekly Labour Movement newspaper, expressing concern about the number of bookshop closures, caused by political defeats of the Left during the 1980s, and radical territory having been coopted by the main chain, Waterstones, selling feminist and environmentalist books. I reported some bookshops having difficulty recruiting staff due to low pay for a job involving long hours, poor conditions and weekend working. There were some shops doing well, particularly those which had moved on from being the pole of attraction for ‘a few lefties who have been buying obscure Trotskyist or anarchist material in dowdy premises for years might find it difficult to understand why bookshops had sold out by having carpets and books that people actually want to read’. The remaining bookshops were leaving behind the ‘assorted whiffs of squalor and selfrighteousness’ and widening their stock and reach.