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New Beacon Books
Photograph: New Beacon Books

New Beacon Books was the UK’s first Black publisher, and it’s still educating Londoners 50 years on

New Beacon Books is a fundamental part of Black British history

By Melissa Cummings-Quarry

Waking up super early. Picking the perfect outfit. Slicking your hair down with brown gel. Glossing your lips. This might sound like preparation for going ‘out out’ in the Before Days, but for me that was my weekend ritual for getting ready to meet my girlfriends to venture to 76 Stroud Green Road and visit New Beacon Books.

This was the UK’s first publishing house and bookshop specialising in the works of Black writers. Founded by Trinidadian political and cultural activist, poet, writer, publisher John La Rose and his partner Sarah White in 1966, it has been a safe haven for those of us wanting to lose ourselves in the work of Black writers for more than 50 years.

The world of Black authors was not prominently featured on the school curriculum but, at New Beacon Books, I got my education. I was introduced to the works of Ralph Ellison, Bernardine Evaristo, Jackie Kay, Audre Lorde and Sister Souljah. Fellow patrons would signpost me to books that they thought a young Black girl needed to read. The bookshop has been key not only in amplifying the work of Black writers, but ensuring that we have a place to showcase our achievements.

New Beacon Books is a fundamental part of Black British history that provided the blueprint for when I co-founded Black Girls Book Club – a literature and social events platform that celebrates literature by Black womxn writers.

Speaking of La Rose, the novelist, playwright and critic Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o wrote: ‘John La Rose is immensely aware of the revolutionary potential of literature and culture in the world today. As a writer, publisher and cultural activist, he has helped in the growth of many writers in Africa, Caribbean, Europe and America. Rarely has anybody come into contact with him without being affected by his generous, searching, modern renaissance spirit.’

New Beacon is not just a cultural institution: it is a safe space for Black writers and readers alike. Seventy-six Stroud Green Road is the birthplace of Black British literature – and somewhere I can call home.  

New Beacon Books, 76 Stroud Green Rd, Stroud Green, N4 3EN. 

Melissa Cummings-Quarry is co-founder of Black Girls Book Club. The club’s book ‘Grown: The Black Girls' Guide to Growing Up and Showing Out’ will be published in 2021. Find out more here

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