The International Book Fairs

Collection Ref No.:

GB 2904 BFC

Date range:

1970-2005

Description

The following material is taken from, or relates to, the International Book Fairs of Radical Black and Third World Books which took place between 1982 and 1995. There were 12 International Book Fairs in total, held annually from 1982-1991, and then biannually in 1993 and 1995. London venues were chosen on each occasion. From year 4 onwards (1985), International Book Fairs and events also took place in Manchester (1985-1991; 1995), Bradford (1985-1993), Leeds (1993; 1995) and Glasgow (1993; 1995). The Caribbean Peoples International Bookfair and Bookfair Festival (1987-1988; 1992) was a related event organised by the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) in Trinidad.

The founders of the International Book Fairs were New Beacon Books, Race Today Publications and Bogle L'Ouverture Publications. All three were experienced in radical black publishing and in international bookselling. All three organisations had also been working closely together since 1975 when the Black Parents Movement had been formed in North London. All three were members of the Alliance of the Black Parents Movement, Black Youth Movement and Race Today Collective [see GB 2904 BPM] and had been active in many campaigns, including the New Cross Massacre Action Campaign [see GB 2904 NCM].

John La Rose (New Beacon Books) and Jessica Huntley (Bogle L'Ouverture Publications) became Joint Directors, and an Organising Committee was formed to plan and oversee each International Book Fair and Book Fair Festival. They were aided by dedicated volunteers who helped to co-ordinate all aspects of the event.

The International Book Fairs succeeded in bringing together both national and international participants, especially from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Central America, the U.S., Germany, France and Belgium. People came, not only to exhibit, order and distribute books but also to take part in an accompanying programme of Book Fair Festival forums and events, which included readings of poetry and prose or a theatrical production, a concert and usually a film evening.

The collection comprises:
BFC/01: First International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books: 1982

BFC/02: Second International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books: 1983

BFC/03: Third International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books: 1984

BFC/04: Fourth International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books: 1985

BFC/05: Fifth International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books: 1986

BFC/06: Sixth International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books: 1987

BFC/07: Seventh International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books: 1988

BFC/08: Eighth International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books: 1989

BFC/09: Ninth International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books: 1990

BFC/10: Tenth International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books: 1991

BFC/11: Eleventh International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books: 1993

BFC/12: Twelfth International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books: 1995.
Includes material relating to plans for the Thirteenth International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books in 1997 which never took place, John La Rose announcing the cessation of the Book Fairs in their established form due to his retirement.

BFC/13: Caribbean Peoples International Bookfairs and Bookfair Festivals: 1987-88; 1992

BFC/14: Book Fairs - General Material: 1980s-1990s

BFC/15: A Meeting of the Continents: 2005

Admin history:

The International Book Fairs of Radical Black and Third World Books took place between 1982 and 1995. There were 12 International Book Fairs in total, held annually from 1982-1991, and then biannually in 1993 and 1995. London venues were chosen on each occasion. From year 4 onwards (1985), International Book Fairs and events also took place in Manchester (1985-1991; 1995), Bradford (1985-1993), Leeds (1993; 1995) and Glasgow (1993; 1995). The Caribbean Peoples International Bookfair and Bookfair Festival took place in 1987-1988 and 1992. This was a related event organised by the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) in Trinidad. For further details of venues and related events, see 'Venues' below.

The founders of the International Book Fairs were New Beacon Books, Race Today Publications and Bogle L'Ouverture Publications. All three were experienced in radical black publishing and in international bookselling. All three organisations had also been working closely together since 1975 when the Black Parents Movement had been formed in North London. All three were members of the Alliance of the Black Parents Movement, Black Youth Movement and Race Today Collective [see GB 2904 BPM] and had been active in many campaigns, including the New Cross Massacre Action Campaign [see GB 2904 NCM].

John La Rose (New Beacon Books) and Jessica Huntley (Bogle L'Ouverture Publications) became Joint Directors, and an Organising Committee was formed to plan and oversee each International Book Fair and Book Fair Festival. They were aided by dedicated volunteers who helped to co-ordinate all aspects of the event.

The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books was introduced as
"a meeting of the continents for writers, publishers, distributors, booksellers, artists, musicians, film makers and the people who inspire and consume their creative productions" (Letter of invitation to the First International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books 1982 - GB 2904 BFC/01/02/01/01).
The International Book Fairs succeeded in bringing together both national and international participants, especially from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Central America, the U.S., Germany, France and Belgium. People came, not only to exhibit, order and distribute books but also to take part in an accompanying programme of Book Fair Festival forums and events.

Each International Book Fair would typically last for 3 days, running from Thursday to Saturday inclusive, and would be held a few weeks before Easter. The Book Fair was surrounded by an accompanying Book Fair Festival, which consisted of forums, readings of poetry and prose or a theatrical production, a concert and usually a film evening. The International Book Fair and Festival combined would last for about 7-10 days, depending on the year and venue. Both Book Fair and Festival were designed to compliment each other. Although the forums differed from year to year, there were recurring cultural, social and political themes such as publishing, women's writing, education and approaches to collective action. Major forums would be repeated at different venues, for example in Manchester and Bradford, although the panel of speakers would often change, thus generating a different debate with a fresh audience on each occasion.

Exhibitions of photographs, documents or artwork served as a backcloth to each International Book Fair. Workshops were also held for school children, with the opportunity to interview authors, listen to readings and discuss literature. The background music accompanying the typical 3 day Book Fair in London was provided by The Peoples War Sound System, formed in 1975 by Michael La Rose. Close associations with the Carnival Movement led to the formation of the Peoples War Carnival Band in 1983.

The International Book Fair Festivals were inspired by the earlier forums, talks and readings of the Caribbean Artists Movement (1966-1972) - see collection GB 2904 CAM. There was a strong political impetus driven by former events, such as the 1945 Pan African Congress held in Manchester which laid the foundations for post world war independence movements and there was also a strong tie with trade unions, for example black workers groups and the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union in Trinidad. All this created the momentum for radical black activity and debate, both nationally and internationally. The International Book Fairs were dedicated to progressive thought, creative expression and independence. In the words of the Organising Committee, the Book Fair tradition had always "..advocated non-sectarian, radical and revolutionary discussion and action in the direction of socialism and mass democracy.." (Statement issued by the Organising Committee of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books Feb 1997 - see GB 2904 BFC/12/01/01/07). Three Book Fair Festival events, a workshop: Racism Fascism Nazism Racial Attacks - the European Response (London 1990), the forum: Racism, Fascism and Xenephobia in Europe: The Struggle Against It (London 1991) and a Day Conference: Bigotry, Racism, Nazism and Fascism in Europe: Strategies for Change (London 1993) were tied to the European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice alliance (see collection GB 2904 EAC).

An innovation from the Eleventh International Book Fair and Book Fair Festival 1993 was that certain events were intended to take place prior to the Book Fair Festival week. These events were organised jointly with, for example, the Southall Monitoring Group and Tabula Rasa; the Islington Black Workers' Group and European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice; the Black Parents' Movement and New Beacon Books. There was also a tour organised for Abdul Alkalimat starting 12 Mar 1993 for his new book How to Read Malcolm X. The tour took place in different parts of England prior to the Book Fair.

Funding:
There was a policy not to actively seek grants to fund the International Book Fairs because of the desire to maintain independence. Therefore all participants chose to come to the Book Fairs using their own resources as there was no money available to finance travel and subsistence. Participants were frequently offered accommodation in people's houses, rather than accruing hotel expenses. Publishers and distributers were charged a modest fee for exhibiting books and advertising in the souvenir brochure but this was only to cover expenses. A team of dedicated volunteers helped to co-ordinate all aspects of the event. Andrew Salkey recognised that great things could be achieved with very little when he noted that "Free-blooming and remarkably beautiful flowers also grow in dessert sand" (Andrew Salkey: extract from a message of support and solidarity in advance of the First International Book Fair - see GB 2904 BFC/01/04/03/01).

Venues:
The First International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books was held at Islington Town Hall, the Second Book Fair at Lambeth Town Hall and the Third at Acton Town Hall. Each of these venues represented the base of New Beacon Books, Race Today Publications and Bogle L'Ouverture Publications respectively. From the Fourth Book Fair onwards, the Camden Centre became the permanent venue.

The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books was not only confined to London. From the Fourth Book Fair onwards, events took place in Manchester, Bradford, and then Leeds. In 1990 James Kelman took part in an evening of International Prose Readings at the Ninth Book Fair. He subsequently joined the International Book Fair Organising Committee and established the sister Scottish Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books, held in 1993 and 1995.

Preparation of a Typical International Book Fair and Book Fair Festival:
Each Book Fair and Book Fair Festival would follow similar administrative and structural patterns. A Call message would be sent out during the preceding October or November followed by a more detailed preliminary programme and publicity during the January of the following year. Letters of invitation were sent out to potential participants for forums, poetry readings and other Festival events. Anyone wishing to exhibit books and other material during the Book Fair would be asked to complete and return an application form with payment. There was also the opportunity to advertise in the souvenir brochure for a modest fee.

Each publisher/distributer was allocated a set amount of space on a table or stall, sold in 2 ft amounts. The occupants of the stalls would, inevitably, try to gain extra space from neighbours. The layout of the stalls was meticulously planned each year to minimise the risk of any disputes breaking out between rival publishers who might otherwise have found themselves placed side by side. Applications to exhibit books could also be turned down by the Book Fair Organising Committee, a frequently cited reason being that the International Book Fair was "a Publishers' Fair and not a Book Shop Fair"(GB 2904 BFC/10/05/01/03).

Twelfth International Book Fair and Beyond:
Over time, two of the three organisations involved with running the Book Fair - Bogle L'Ouverture and Race Today - withdrew from the Organising Committee. Others joined in, such as Griot Media (formerly Griot International Books), Education for Liberation, LKJ Records and Books, and Longsight Press. However, by 1995, the majority of the organising work was left to New Beacon Books.

In his 'Welcome' message to the Twelfth International Book Fair, John La Rose looked forward to the Thirteenth International Book Fair in 1997 (see GB 2904 BFC/12/04/02/01). However, this was never to take place (see below). In the tradition of the Book Fair Souvenir Brochures issued every year, the Opening Address from the previous year was printed in the brochure for the following year (except during the earliest brochures). The Opening Address by Pearl Connor-Mogotsi at the Twelfth Book Fair was therefore never published in this way, although a transcript exists (see GB 2904 BFC/12/05/01/01).

In Feb 1997 the Organising Committee of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books issued a statement announcing that John La Rose, Director and co-founder, had taken the decision to retire and it was felt that the Book Fair in London could not continue in its existing form. Although this may have been the trigger for change, it was not the sole reason: "the Committee has already begun, and is continuing with extensive discussions about the restructuring and reorganising that we ourselves need to carry out in order to continue the Book Fair tradition and spirit in new conditions in the contemporary world" (GB 2904 BFC/12/01/01/07). The "new conditions" alluded to the fact that increased pressures at work left little time for participation. The International Book Fairs could no longer count on the presence of more mainstream publishers due to cuts in staffing levels. Schools were evolving and teachers no longer had the time to organise an outing for children to the Book Fair during the school day. Volunteers became increasingly engaged in other ventures and could take less time off. The International Book Fair could also be seen as a victim of its own success as it had advanced the cultural and political needs of the participants and exhibitors, to the point where the Book Fairs were no longer seen as indispensable.

The demise of the International Book Fair was met with regrets and new ideas were put forward to continue the traditions of the event, for example the holding of regular forums or conferences in London similar to the Book Fair Festivals but on a smaller scale. Publishing documents from the history of the Book Fair was also suggested. The development of the George Padmore Institute was conceived in the spirit of the International Book Fairs and was described as "an educational library and research centre housing materials relating to the black community in Britain and continental Europe. The Institute will have an independent radical vision and outlook, and a regular programme of talks, seminars, forums and other activities connecting the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, North America and Asia" (GB 2904 BFC/12/01/01/07). Such events continue today and have been supplemented by an archive and a publishing programme.

The Caribbean Peoples International Bookfair and Bookfair Festival:
The Caribbean Peoples International Bookfair and Bookfair Festival took place in Trinidad and Tobago in 1987, 1988 and 1992. This was a related event organised by the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU) in Trinidad and its Publishing House, Vanguard Publishing Co. Ltd, in association with New Beacon Books and Race Today Publications.
The First Caribbean Peoples International Bookfair and Bookfair Festival ran from 21 Jun-5 Jul 1987 and John La Rose opened the Bookfair at Palm's Club, San Fernando, Trinidad on 27 Jun (GB 2904 BFC/13/01/05/01). The year 1987 was a significant date as it marked the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union during the Jun 1937 revolt which signalled the emergence of the modern Caribbean.
The Second Caribbean Peoples International Bookfair and Bookfair Festival 1988 was split between two venues, taking place 19-23 Oct in San Fernando and 26-30 Oct in Port of Spain. The Third Caribbean Peoples International Bookfair and Bookfair Festival was held in Trinidad and Tobago from 2-19 Nov 1992. This was organised by the Vanguard Publishing Company in association with Classline Publishing Company and Banyan Limited of Trinidad and Tobago, and New Beacon Books.
The Caribbean Bookfairs followed a similar pattern to that of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books, namely a bookfair for the display and sale of books, plus story-telling and other performances with a literary and cultural focus aimed at children. The Bookfair Festival comprised a series of cultural performances such a dance, drama, kaiso, steelband, poetry and music. There were also forums and discussion, a film festival and exhibitions of artwork. Publishers, writers and performing artists from the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Indian sub-continent were invited to participate.
Arrangements were made with British West Indian Airways (BWIA) to airfreight books for the Bookfair to Trinidad from various collection points. Publishers in Britain and Europe could send books via New Beacon Books, associates of the Caribbean Peoples International Bookfair and the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union.

A Meeting of the Continents:
For further information see the book 'A Meeting of the Continents: The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books - Revisited: Histories, Memories, Organisation and Programmes 1982-1995'. Edited by Sarah White, Roxy Harris and Sharmilla Beezmohun. Published by New Beacon Books in 2005 for the George Padmore Institute. The photographs and plates used for the production of this book were drawn from the International Book Fair archives collection and have been included under GB 2904 BFC/15.

Related material: Many of the participants in the International Book Fairs of Radical Black and Third World Books had also been involved with the Caribbean Artists Movement (1966-1972): see collection GB 2904 CAM. Three Book Fair Festival events, a workshop: Racism Fascism Nazism Racial Attacks - the European Response (London 1990), the forum: Racism, Fascism and Xenephobia in Europe: The Struggle Against It (London 1991) and a Day Conference: Bigotry, Racism, Nazism and Fascism in Europe: Strategies for Change (London 1993) were tied to the European Action for Racial Equality and Social Justice alliance (most active during the period 1990-1993): see collection GB 2904 EAC.

Custodial History:

The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books collection was gifted to the George Padmore Institute by John La Rose (1927-2006).