Arif Ali’s first publishing venture began in his grocery store in the 1960s and ended up spawning one of the biggest companies of its kind in Europe

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When Arif Ali arrived at Victoria Station in September 1957, he only had a penny in his pocket, having travelled to Britain from Guyana via the Canary Islands, Spain, Italy and France. It was a typically adventurous passage for someone who would go on to head the largest black publishing company in Europe.

In 2018 Hansib Publications celebrated its 48th birthday, having brought out hundreds of books in addition to pivotal black publications of the 1970s and ‘80s.

The descendant of 19th century Indian indentured labourers, Arif came to Britain to study economics but ended up in various menial jobs, including a spell as a porter in a hospital mortuary and a bus driver.

He eventually got better-paid work and by 1966 had saved enough money to buy a grocer’s store in Crouch End, north London. As one of the few shops selling West Indian foods, customers would come from all over London to stock up and it soon became a place to meet up in.

A talking point would be stories in the Caribbean newspapers on sale and this prompted Arif to launch his first publishing venture, The West Indian, which contained reproduced newspaper articles.

In 1970 he sold his thriving shop and set up Hansib – named after his parents Haniff and Sibby. Its first title, a monthly magazine called Westindian Digest, was launched shortly afterwards with a print run of 2,000 copies.
In 1973 he bought the struggling West Indian World newspaper. In the same year, he launched Hansib’s first book, West Indians in Britain, regarded as the who’s who’s of the black community.

In 1981 the company launched Caribbean Times and later its sister papers, Asian Times and African Times. They all became noted for their forthright views.

Root, a glossy magazine aimed at the ‘buppie’ market, was to also join the Hansib stable.
In 1997 the company devoted itself entirely to book publishing, bringing out several editions of Third World Impact and Ethnic Business Directory as well as scores of titles covering biography, history, polemic and culture.

Without Hansib and Arif’s larger than life influence it is safe to say that many would not have seen the light of day in Britain’s market-driven publishing industry.

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