Hosted by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB), the London Radical Bookfair, held on this Saturday 2nd June, brings together a diverse community of radical booksellers and publishers from across the UK, showcasing the depth and breadth of radical publishing today.
But what does ‘radical’ really mean?
The Latin origin of the word denotes a change ‘from the root’ - and certainly a desire to create meaningful and positive social change from the ground up is what all those present on the day, booksellers and visitors alike, will have in common. Finding a single word to define a wide range of political positions is always going to fail to capture the many complexities covered: ‘radical’ is an imperfect word, but it is one with a rich tradition within British political struggle.
And radical publishing is no longer a fringe endeavourn recent years it has made significant inroads into the more conservative parts of the industry. It was heartening to see awards go to both Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give at the British Book Awards this year, two hugely successful books which pose a direct challenge to social injustice. And we at the Alliance of Radical Booksellers take great delight that one of our members, Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, picked up the Best UK Independent Bookshop award. This is a recognition that is thoroughly deserved—Five Leaves has done incredible work in the five years since it has opened. And it is also, perhaps, an indication that the industry is recognising and beginning to address some of its previous cultural and political limitations.
Our bookfair began as a natural extension of the ARB’s book prize: The Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing. In our first year the award had a small prize-giving ceremony, and reflecting on that experience we recognised that it would be nice to have had talks about the books that were shortlisted, and generally expand on the occasion. Next thing you know we’d hired out Conway Hall, had a thousand people through the door and had to look for a bigger venue! Over the last seven years we’ve moved from venue to venue but have now found a more permanent home at Goldsmiths University.
Through an organic process the bookfair comes to reflect ongoing changes in radical publishing. Alongside our regular stall holders of long standing bookshops, such as Housmans and Freedom, and radical publishers such as AK or Verso, we increasingly have stalls for new magazines and zines. There has been an explosion of new titles, particularly along cultural and intersectional lines or race, gender, and sexuality. Titles like Contested and Gal Dem have quickly picked up wide and loyal readerships.
The bookfair is also increasingly attracting publishers concentrating on the writing of ethnic minorities. This year Jacaranda Books, as well as having a stall, will be hosting three sessions on aspects of the migrant experience, from Windrush to Pakistan. Another area that has seen exciting new growth is political poetry, and this year we have a performance by the excellent activist-poet Potent Whisper.
If there's one thing that this year's fair will demonstrate, it's that the appetite and market for radical publishing is in rude health. In difficult times, positive and impactful publishing can and will emerge.