Lynn Gaspard, Saqi Books
For over thirty years, Saqi Books has released seminal, cutting-edge works about the Middle East and North Africa, offering an independent platform for writers and artists from around the world. We have taken the lead in making available banned works by novelists and political dissidents from the region – works reflecting progressive attitudes and often by minority writers (ethnic, religious, sex or their gender). These include groundbreaking works by Muslim feminists, historians and social anthropologists, such as Fatema Mernissi’s Beyond the Veil, Amin Maalouf’s The Crusades through Arab Eyes, Arab Jews by Abbas Shiblak and Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East by Brian Whitaker.
One might wonder how a poetry collection about the British butch lesbian counterculture found its way onto our list. In fact, it is a natural extension of our ambition since 1983 to champion fierce, powerful writing by authors outside the mainstream. Indeed, our progressive nonfiction imprint The Westbourne Press (TWP) was established in 2012 to release intellectually daring, topical and intelligent works on the leading issues of our time – books that inform us about the world we live in. C+nto sits alongside TWP titles including Sex and Punishment by Eric Berkowitz, Misogynies by Joan Smith and Asian Britain by Susheila Nasta, among others that question orthodox attitudes to sex, gender, race, class and colonial legacies.
Under our Saqi imprint, we have translated the works of numerous key Arab poets, such as Adonis, Mahmoud Darwish and Nazik al-Malaika, and published bestselling collections, including Classical Poems by Arab Women. However, before C+nto, The Westbourne Press had only released one poetry collection: I Am Nobody’s Nigger by Dean Atta (shortlisted for the Polari Prize 2014).
Joelle’s work was first brought to our attention by Sabrina Mahfouz in Smashing It: Working Class Artists on Life, Art and Making it Happen. Joelle’s performances at events to celebrate the book’s release were electrifying and totally transfixing. Every once in a while, as a publisher, if you are lucky, you come across the work of a writer that rocks you to your core, that you know will make a difference. Joelle Taylor is one such writer. C+nto is a masterpiece; it was impossible not to publish it. It records memories of lost people and places, and so poignantly relays the pain and violence endured by butch lesbians – an experience not yet widely recognised. But Joelle’s writing is ultimately full of hope. She writes about love: the love between women, the love and solidarity found within the butch community, the love that we each deserve, regardless of our sexual orientation or background.
We cannot think of a writer more deserving of a T. S. Eliot Prize shortlisting than Joelle, who has dedicated her working life to the advancement of poetry and spoken word. C+nto is a poetic tour de force, earth-shattering in its impact and vital in its representation of a community increasingly losing space within the mainstream.