Glenn Thompson, the black American founder of Centerprise, died on 7
September 2001. He was one of the great pioneering spirits of Hackney's multi-cultural
politics, and it is amazing that his original achievement still survives after thirty
years, at its present address in Kingsland High Street, where its promotion of new writing
and black literature also still flourishes - one of the great survivors of the London's
1960s culture, though the project didn't properly open until 1971 in Dalston Lane, after
Glenn's original choice of a double shopfront in Stoke Newington High Street fell through.
Glenn arrived in the borough at the end of the 1960s as a youth worker in Hoxton. He had
been brought up in Brooklyn, in tough circumstances, with his mother dying when
he was 11 and his father later spending time in prison. A late reader himself, he became
almost obsessed with the power of literacy to change people's lives, and in many ways the
rest of his life was spent promoting this belief - in Hackney, back in New York, then as
an international publisher, as well as someone who worked in Africa setting up workshops
to promote indigenous publishing.
He was a sharp and convincing entrepreneur. Quickly realising how the financial and
cultural establishment in Britain operated, he opened Centerprise's bank account at
Coutts, the elite bank, just to confuse people. He managed to persuade the Inner London
Education Authority to fund a bookshop and coffee bar in Hackney as a bona fide youth
project, when the dominant image of youth provision was a church hall with a table-tennis
table, a Dansette record player, two Cliff Richard LPs and a tea urn.
He set up the first outlet for the Open University course books in London at Centerprise,
imported black literature from small publishers around the world, and contacted local
teachers, including me, to talk about setting up literacy projects for young people who
fell through the net. He was convinced - as he had the right to be - of his mission in
life, though he was happy for others to fill in the details. His winning smile, can-do
attitude, and canny political skills, made him for a number of years one of the most able
operators in Hackney's brittle political culture. He won every hand he played.
A couple of years ago, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Centerprise, Glenn returned to
Hackney, along with the eminent writer and publisher, Margaret Busby, and Roger
Mills, a writer from Stoke Newington who had been first published by Centerprise. In the
conversation about writing and publishing, Glenn talked enthusiastically about the
workshops he had run in Africa, and the new possibilities which desktop publishing offered
against the deadening hand of mass publishing. Always the optimist, he left
everyone feeling good at the end of the evening, as he talked about the many projects he
felt that he still had to complete.
He was buried in Highgate Cemetery - he loved Hampstead because of its liberal, émigré
culture - on Tuesday, 18th September, 2001. At his funeral service a poem by Vivian
Usherwood, a young black Stoke Newington writer (who died tragically young) was read.
Vivian's poems became the first book that Glenn and Centerprise ever published.
noon-2.30pm Monday to Friday
Adnams, Marston's, Pedigree, Ruddles County
Regular music evening