About Peepal Tree Press

Contact Peepal Tree Press
by e-mail contact@peepaltreepress.com
Write to us at
17 King's Avenue, Leeds LS6 1QS, United Kingdom
Or telephone +44 (0)113 2451703



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About Peepal Tree
THE 'SHORT' VERSION


Peepal Tree Press is home of the best in Caribbean and Black British fiction, poetry, literary criticism, memoirs and historical studies.

Peepal Tree is a wholly independent company, founded in 1985, and now publishing around 30-40 books a year. We have published over 250 titles, and are committed to keeping them in print. The list features new writers and established voices. In 2009 we launched the Caribbean Modern Classics Series, which restores to print essential classic books from the 1950s and 60s. We are grateful for financial support from Arts Council England. We are also home to Inscribe, a project which supports writers of African & Asian descent in the Yorkshire region.

Our focus is on what George Lamming calls the Caribbean nation, wherever it is in the world, though we are also concerned with Black British writing. We publish fiction, poetry and a range of academic and non-fiction titles. Our goal is always to publish books that make a difference, and though we always want to achieve the best possible sales, we’re most concerned with whether a book will still be alive in the future.

We are based in Leeds in Yorkshire, part of a growing, independent publishing sector outside London. Everything happens at 17 King’s Avenue, in the Burley area, a rundown, multicultural part of Leeds (where business rates are low and you can get a good massala fish across the road). Visitors are always welcome and over the years a good many of our writers have called by. One was Tony Kellman, Barbadian poet and novelist, who found the only warm place during the Leeds winter was by the boiler in the basement!

THE LONGER VERSION

The idea for Peepal Tree began in the ruins of the former Lusignan sugar estate on the East Coast Demerara in Guyana in 1984. My friend Rooplall Monar was acting out several of the stories he had written, but was in despair at their ever seeing the light of day. Writers in Guyana usually went to the local printery, or Sheik Sadeek with his Adana, but in those bad, grim Burnham days, there was no paper to be had, even smuggled. I volunteered to organise the printing of a small run (400 I think) back in England. The idea for the name came from the research I was doing. I wondered about ‘Banyan’ first, but it didn’t have the right ring. There were also peepal trees in the Caribbean (I recall a poem by an early Indo-Guyanese poet, Jacob Chinapen that described estate workers sitting under a peepal tree telling stories at the end of the day). It seemed a good metaphor (and pun) for something that was transplanted as a symbol both of staying connected to origins and putting down roots in a new environment. There was also a certain political point to the name. At the time, in the mid 1980s, the position of Indians in Trinidad, and particularly Guyana, was one still of cultural marginality and political exclusion. Much has changed since then, but I wanted the name to be both Indian and Caribbean. So, Backdam People became the first Peepal Tree publication, ‘typeset’ on a daisywheel printer and printed in the evenings at the college where I worked. New Beacon Books, all praise to John La Rose and Sarah White, who were my inspiration, sold quite a few in their bookshop; I took them to the Black, Third World and Radical Bookfair, and began to learn that publishers had to be salesmen too (a difficult lesson for a sheltered Further Education lecturer), and of course sold quite a few in book-starved Guyana. Sadly the Guyana dollar was devalued from about $8 to the £1 sterling to over $100 to the pound just after these were sold. There was another lesson about the intricacies of export, one that was reinforced later when our former US distributor when bust, and when a certain Trinidadian bookseller skipped off the island with her new American husband, leaving her large debts behind.
But Peepal Tree has never been discouraged for too long. Backdam People began what was a serious but quite expensive hobby, bringing out one or two books a year, until a friendly printer sold me an old Rotaprint offset press (it did depend on an elastic band) and with the help of my then teenage son, we began printing (that statement conceals many painful hours of trial and much error) Peepal Tree books in our garage. When the Arts Council gave me a grant, we bought an ear-splitting old folding machine and were really in business. A year or two later we were encouraged to put in a bid to the Arts Council for development funding. (They were evidently impressed by the fact that we actually delivered the books we promised.) I wrote the first business plan of my life (of astonishing naivety I see now, though no one in the Arts Council recognized this).

On the basis of being awarded development funding, I began to try to turn the hobby into a business, and took the risk of turning my FE lecturer’s job into a halftime post.
The business plan was to subsidize the overheads and printing costs of the books by running a parallel printing business, looking for jobs from other small publishers. What happened thereafter is too long and involved and sometimes painful story to tell. But the conclusion is that in time this did indeed become the reality and is how Peepal Tree survives.


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