/ 8 March 2024

Festival a ‘platform for women’s untold stories’

International Booker Prize Award Ceremony In London
Plant seeds: Margaret Busby, the keynote speaker at the Johannesburg Festival of Women Writers. Photo: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Getty Images

The theme for Sunday’s Johannesburg Festival of Women Writers is “Mothers and Daughters: An Intergenerational Conversation”. 

The festival delves into the dynamic relationship between generations of women, exploring the links of their experiences and the enduring legacy they leave behind.

At the heart of this conversation will be the keynote speaker Margaret Busby, who is a beacon of inspiration for women writers everywhere. 

Busby is particularly known for her groundbreaking work as a publisher, editor and writer. 

She tells the Mail & Guardian she is thrilled that there are platforms such as the festival for women to tell their stories. 

“There are so many untold stories women still need to tell. Women have often been so overlooked simply because they are in the background. There is a long history of creativity and storytelling from women.”

Born in Ghana, Busby moved to England as a child and later became the first black woman publisher in the UK. In 1967, she co-founded publishing company Allison & Busby, which quickly gained recognition for its commitment to publishing works by diverse authors, including many from Africa and the Caribbean.

In addition to her editorial work, Busby is an accomplished broadcaster. She has also contributed essays, articles and reviews to various publications and has served as a judge for prestigious literary awards, including the Booker Prize, the Caine Prize for African Writing and the Commonwealth Book Prize.

Busby’s editorial contributions extend beyond her work at Allison & Busby. She has edited numerous anthologies, including Daughters of Africa and its sequel New Daughters of Africa, which showcase the works of women writers of African descent from around the world. These have been acclaimed for their breadth and diversity, offering a platform for marginalised voices.

Busby says women are the source of stories and questions why anyone would want to ignore that source. 

“That is why this conference is important and why women writers will always be important — some of them have had to face the double jeopardy of being black and a woman.” 

She says for women writers to stop being viewed as such, they have to push boundaries and this initiative is the perfect platform for those who are underrepresented to be heard.  

Busby mentions the importance of this year’s theme — she says this is a similar practice to “planting trees which you may never sit”. 

“What we are doing here is not for our personal benefit, we are trying to do something that will benefit another generation. I think intergenerational communication is a wonderful thing.” 

Busby says she will use the platform to tell young people that they can be writers and publishers. 

“It is important that we are involved in the publishing space, so we have some say on how things are published and what things are published. There are just too few black publishers within the industry who could have an influence,” she says. 

There is no specific reason for that, says Busby. She and others like her, who have become successful in the publishing space, should be a blueprint for the young and upcoming. 

“I want people to realise that publishing something is necessary to be involved in, just as writing is necessary to be involved in.”

The festival, at the Johannesburg Business School in Auckland Park, is also a tribute to the legacy of women activists such as Ruth Mompati and Sally Motlana.

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