Poet, essayist, publisher and activist, John La Rose was all of these and more in a life dedicated to cultural and political change


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John La Rose was born in Trinidad and attended St Mary’s College, Port of Spain. Having become involved in the youth and trade union movements, he settled in London in 1961 to become a leading voice in the black community.

His main platform was New Beacon Books, Britain’s first black publishing house, which he founded in 1966 to challenge the domination of mainstream publishers on Caribbean literature. Its debut book was a volume of his own poetry, Foundations, and its first big seller was Bernard Coard’s 1971 polemic, How the West Indian Child is made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System.

In the early days, books were stacked in the front room of his house in, Finsbury Park, north London, for distribution to events and meetings. In 1973 the bookshop proper opened nearby, where it continues to be a treasure trove of progressive literature and thought.

Together with the Jamaican writer and broadcaster Andrew Salkey and the Barbadian poet and historian Kamau Brathwaite, John founded the Caribbean Artists Movement, which between 1966-72 blazed a trail in defining a black cultural aesthetic, championing the likes of poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and fabric designer Althea McNish.

John’s name is associated with the historic civil rights campaigns of the day, including the Black Education Movement, which fought against racial discrimination in schools.
He founded the George Padmore Supplementary School in 1969 and was a leading light in the Caribbean Education in Community Workers Association.

He was also chair of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee that was formed as a response to a house fire which resulted in the deaths of 13 young black people in 1981. This mobilised the Black People’s Day of Action that saw 15,000 people march through central London in protest at the police’s less than thorough investigation of the fire.

One of John’s greatest achievements was the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books (1982-95), organised jointly with Bogle L’Ouverture Books and Race Today Publications.

The George Padmore Institute, a library, archive and educational research centre, was established in 1991 and chaired by John.

One of John’s favourite sayings was “dream to change the world” and in 2015 an exhibition was held in London to honour his life and remarkable legacy.

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