Independent publishers, small presses and zine-makers are primed to come together tomorrow (7th May) at the London Radical Book Fair, an event created to support the radical book trade and provide an organisational structure for the “reviving movement”.
The brainchild of booksellers Ross Bradshaw, Nik Gorecki and Mandy Vere, the book fair proclaims “social justice” as the theme that unites all radical publishers, and recognises that there is a growing appetite for books that promote political awareness.
Now in its fourth year, the fair has swollen in size. Starting off as “simply a social” in 2013, it rapidly grew into a “fully-fledged” book fair, with last year’s event hosting “numbers beyond our anticipation”.
This year’s show will take place at Goldsmiths, University of London, which was chosen for its “great reputation in terms of critical thinking”, Gorecki said, adding: “From the moment we approached [Goldsmiths], it has really done a lot to support the fair and make it happen. The match is one that feels really comfortable; that part of south-east London is buzzing with grassroots political activity at the moment.”
Radical booksellers themselves, Bradshaw (who founded Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham) and Gorecki (co-manager of London’s Housmans Bookshop) have noticed a “real appetite” for radical books. Gorecki said: “Certainly at Housmans, sales are better than ever. We’re finding that people are increasingly open to picking up books on a whole range of subjects, whereas perhaps before people might have been a bit more cautious, and thought certain books weren’t for them. As much as there might be social change happening, I think a good deal of credit has to go to the publishers and authors who are putting out well-written and attractive books.” He added: “There are lots of great books being published, written in a clear and understandable manner. I think in the past there was often a disconnect between the content and readers . . . it seemed to me that an academic tone was dominant. I think there’s much better balance these days.”
Bradshaw agreed that radical publishing was flourishing and beginning to seep into bigger publishers’ lists: “There are some great radical publishers—Verso and Pluto come immediately to mind, but Penguin is now regularly publishing radical writers such as Noam Chomsky, Owen Jones and Naomi Klein.” He added that digital technologies that have enabled small publishers to publish economically, coupled with readers’ willingness to “explore new ideas and revisit old ones”, had contributed to the growing health of the sector.
Although the fair is flourishing, it is a not-for-profit endeavour and receives no external funding; all work undertaken is voluntary and unpaid. “This isn’t ideal and it is a financial struggle,” Gorecki said. “We would love to look at partnerships and sponsorships, but even then any extra money would be used to raise the profile and audience of the fair. The whole reason for putting the book fair on is to try and get people to interact with books they might not otherwise have come across. Politics can have a tendency to alienate people and our mission is to try to make it as accessible
The fair will also hand out two book awards designed to “bring attention to excellent books that might otherwise be sidelined”, run by the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, a coalition of radical- leaning political bookshops.
The winners of the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award, a prize for progressive fiction for readers under 12, and the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing, which celebrates the best progressive adult non-fiction, will be announced at the fair, with shortlisted authors giving talks during the day. Gorecki said: “Both prizes are in their infancy, but I really hope to see their standing grow. I would certainly welcome hearing from anyone in the industry who might be interested in helping bring that about.”
On display: five radical imprints share their experience of the Radical Book Fair
“We’re big fans of the Alliance of Radical Booksellers, so we’re excited to be coming to the Radical Book Fair. As a not- for-profit publishing house, And Other Stories is very much a part of this scene: we’re trying to open up publishing through initiatives such as our reading groups for discovering new foreign titles, while our commitment to publishing mainly translations is also a political statement.”
- Stefan Tobler, publisher and founder, And Other Stories
“It’s great to see [the fair] going from strength to strength. We’re really proud to be among such a diverse and interesting array of publishers, activists and speakers, and glad to be a part of a group of people trying to do things differently. We are committed to publishing groundbreaking, challenging literature and taking risks that bigger publishers are unable to take—at the wonderful fair each year we’re surrounded by others doing the same.”
- Gary Budden, co-founder, Influx Press
“The fair is one of the most exciting events for innovative publishing; you see the rich variety of radical publishing from across the world and get a unique insight not just into authors and ideas outside of the mainstream, but also into the wonderfully imaginative ways that people are publishing. Visitors see books and magazines that they may not have seen before, and [booksellers] will find their customers will really appreciate a radical, diverse range of stock.”
- Rowan Wilson, sales and marketing director, Verso
“The fair is an important event that brings together radical and progressive publishers. This is a diverse and inclusive celebration of critical and alternative thinking and original content creation. I think the fair reflects the amazing extent of talent, creativity and activism around at the moment. There’s a new political awareness growing and a real movement for change building.”
- Dan Raymond-Barker, publications sales and marketing manager, New Internationalist
“The fair is such an interesting, eclectic and energetic event, which really does celebrate the best in radical and children’s publishing—or, as we like to think of it, publishing with a social conscience. Sometimes our industry, especially within young children’s publishing, can seem a little tame, a little over-cautious. This fair is fantastic for highlighting and celebrating the best in thought- provoking, risk-taking publishing for young minds”.
- Fen Coles, director, Letterbox Library