Radical publisher Pluto Press is bringing back its classic Big Red Diary to coincide with the publisher's 50th anniversary. We speak to Pluto c.e.o. Veruschka Selbach about the diary, its history and the press's plans for its future.
Could you tell me about the Big Red Diary and its history?
The Big Red Diary was first published by Pluto Press in 1974. It was meant to both be a practical diary to record appointments and also a mini-reference book for activists full of information about social issues and political campaigns. After the first diary, all the diaries were themed, with the 1976 Women’s diary being particularly well received. The Big Red Diary was hugely popular through the 1970s and continued to be issued until 1987.
Why have you decided to bring the Big Red Diary back?
This year Pluto is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Looking back over our entire history, it seemed to us that the diaries, more than anything else we have published, are quintessentially Pluto. They are also fondly remembered by a whole generation of activists. It therefore felt very fitting to create a new diary that we want to appeal both to the activists of the 1970s and 1980s and also a younger generation who represent Pluto’s readership today.
Will there be any changes?
The 2020 diary is very similar in look and feel to the old diaries—A6 sized, week-per-view, with nuggets of political information dotted throughout the diary and with plenty of two colour and cut out illustrations. We really loved the DIY, rough-and-ready look of the old diaries and we have closely emulated that. The 2020 diary also closely echoes the political concerns of the old diaries covering, as it does, 50 years of radical politics.
How many diaries will you be publishing and how frequently?
We would love to continue publishing the Big Red Diary on an annual basis but realistically we have to see how the 2020 diary sells. Back in the 1970s and 1980s most people used a paper diary; now things are very different. But we are getting a lot of positive responses to the new diary so are very hopeful it will catch on.
Will you be republishing old diaries or will they be brand new?
The 2020 Big Red Diary resembles the old diaries in how they look, but the writing and photos are all completely new. It was a real pleasure to bring together a wide-ranging group of writers, from seasoned Pluto authors to young activists just out of university, to write the text.
Are you doing anything else to mark Pluto’s 50th anniversary?
We’ve done a number of successful bookshop takeovers with independent bookshops—News from Nowhere, Lighthouse, Blackwells, Housmans, Foyles, Book Hive and Newham Bookshop have recently finished. Five Leaves, Bookmarks, Appleseed, the Seminary Coop in Chicago and Red Emma’s in New York are planned for later this year.
We’re publishing a Peter Kennard retrospective covering the last 50 years of his work. We have republished a few key backlist books with new covers—Staying Power: A History of Black People in Britain by Peter Fryer, Augusto Boal’s The Theatre of the Oppressed and How to Read Donald Duck by Ariel Dorfman.
We had a summer party in July to celebrate our 50th birthday. People are Pluto’s biggest asset. The party brought together people from the past, present and future. The original founder was there alongside a number of new, young authors. It also brought together people who had worked together for years, but had never met. We’re also giving away birthday tote bags.
How have the past 50 years gone and what are your plans for the future?
Like any organisation that stands the test of time, we have had successes and failures. We have been threatened and sued, bullied and rejected; we have survived economic depressions, adapted to new technologies and changes in the publishing industry, and enjoyed boom years.
The book trade has changed enormously over the last 50 years. What hasn’t changed is the need for a radical assessment of our current state of affairs and the need for new ideas. Through it all we have remained true to our political purpose.
What do you think about the current state of radical publishing?
Radical publishing is flourishing, and it’s very exciting. It’s not just the small radical publishers who are publishing radical books. Radical publishers are growing and bigger, mainstream publishers are getting behind books from what is usually considered a radical standpoint. Books about the environment, race, gender issues, and new economic models now regularly featured in the bestseller lists.
In our current political climate do you think radical publishing is needed now more than ever?
Short answer, yes. Increased divisions in society, misinformation, and exploitation continue to require assessment and confrontation. Many of our leaders seem to be running a particularly frightening gauntlet of lies and hypocrisy when what we need is radical social, political and economic transformation. That’s why Pluto will continue to be committed to the highest standards of intellectual rigour and critical thinking while engaging actively with new and established movements worldwide.