The archive of writer, psychotherapist and London’s first black head teacher, Beryl Gilroy, joins the British Library collection

Beryl Gilroy

Working drafts of fiction and non-fiction, letters from publishers and literary agents, a selection of books and ‘born-digital’ material will be available for research in autumn this year.

Published date:

Beryl Agatha Gilroy (1924 – 2001) was born in Guyana, then British Guiana, and immigrated to Britain in 1952. Gilroy’s work explores the lives of families, particularly of women and children and the impact of 20th-century migration and societal change that came as a result.

Gilroy was one of the first black head teachers in London in 1969, and wrote a number of acclaimed books for children after realising that the ones she read to her pupils did not reflect their lives or lived experiences. ‘When I write I live and breathe the characters… But I’d rather be remembered as a good teacher and as a person who wrote books that made people identify themselves as they are and others as they are,’ she wrote in her 1976 autobiography, Black Teacher.

Highlights of the archive include:

  • annotated hand-written and typed drafts of In Praise of Love and Children, a rare fictional account of a woman’s experience of migration from the Caribbean, which remained unpublished for 37 years
  • working drafts for three unpublished works including a historical novel set during the 1780 Gordon Riots based on the life of a woman known as ‘Black Harriot’ who is thought to be depicted in William Hogarth’s painting The Rake’s Progress
  • a selection of children’s books Gilroy wrote in the 1970s for the Nippers series published by Macmillan, which reflected the reality of the multicultural school she taught in
  • drafts of non-fiction writing where she reflects on the dynamics of family relationships and experiences she encountered through her work as a counsellor.

See the press release for more information.

For those who can’t wait until the autumn, a free display in the Treasures Gallery, Celebrating Beryl Gilroy, runs from 17 March until 26 June. The display includes highlights from the archive such as drafts of Gilroy’s novel, In Praise of Love and Children and books that she wrote for the influential Nippers series.

The British Library also commissioned the Liverpool-born Nigerian-German artist and filmmaker Amber Akaunu to respond creatively to the archive. Amber has created a zine, The Blueprint and a short film celebrating black women who help educate, nurture and develop children, which will also be on display.