Anthology of writing by women of African descent features more than 200 contributors

Margaret Busby. Picture by Luke Daniels
Margaret Busby. Picture by Luke Daniels

‘A banquet of words’ is how legendary publisher, broadcaster, critic and author Margaret Busby introduces her latest anthology of writing by women of African descent.

New Daughters of Africa comes 25 years after Margaret was commissioned to compile the first anthology of African women’s writing by a young editor called Candida Lacey, who now heads up the Brighton-based Myriad Editions, publishers of the new book.

The original is long out of print and she and Candida decided it was high time for a completely new edition.

Margaret will be discussing the book at the Charleston Festival on May 22. With her will be two of the contributors, award-winning novelist Diana Evans and cultural critic and playwright Bonnie Greer.

There are more than 200 contributors to the anthology. Some will be well known to readers, others less so.

In Candida Lacey’s words: “The discoveries are delicious and exciting.”

She recalls how bowled over she was by the richness and diversity of the first anthology, published in 1992.

“This was the backbone of my education in African literature,” she said. “And I was appalled that despite studying literature at university there were so few names that I knew.”

The new book duplicates none of the writers who appeared in the first collection. It begins with some important entries from the 18th and 19th centuries and continues chronologically to the present day. As the decades unfold, the contributors’ names become more familiar. In the 1950s section, Diane Abbott, the first black woman to be elected to Parliament, has included her speech championing the case for the sugar industry in The Caribbean.

In the ’60s, children’s author Malorie Blackman writes a moving letter to her daughter recounting the day when, at age 18, she was diagnosed with a disease likely to kill her by age 30. Only it didn’t.

The ’70s includes Zadie Smith’s speech on receiving the Langston Hughes Medal in New York and what it means to be accepted, a black British woman, from a mixed marriage – a second-generation Jamaican, a distant but not-forgotten daughter of Africa.

This book is a wonderful treasure trove to dip into and to marvel at how way ahead of their time were some of the early contributors. It begins with words by Nana Asma’u (1793-1863), a revered figure from northern Nigeria, who spoke four languages and was an educated and independent Islamic woman who could be considered a precursor to modern feminism in Africa.

There is more than a touch of feminism in Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960), who praises ‘The Bachelor Girl’ with a marvellous opening line: “She’s no ‘old maid’, she’s not afraid/ To let you know she’s her own ‘boss.’”

The poem ends on a triumphant note:

“And come what may, she’s here to stay/ The self-supporting ‘bachelor girl.’”

Candida Lacey hopes there will be a follow-up to this latest anthology – but neither she nor Margaret plan to wait 25 years this time.

For publisher Candida and Myriad Editions these are exciting times, following their partnership two years ago with the Oxford-based New Internationalist. It has enabled Myriad to expand its reach and its commissioning. They published 12 books the first year of the partnership – a mix of fiction, graphic novels, literary and political non-fiction. The same number is listed for the current year. They still have a base in Brighton, and another in London, with the main office in Oxford. As always they are committed to seeking and publishing new writers.

New Daughters of Africa is at Charleston on May 22 (3pm). Tickets £16, charleston.org.uk.