Beryl Gilroy

Black and white photograph of Beryl Gilroy with primary school pupils in a classroom
© The Estate of Beryl Gilroy. No copying, republication or modification is allowed for this material.

Biography

Beryl Gilroy is heralded as one of the most extensively published Caribbean writers of her time. She is remembered as not only a writer, but as a teacher and psychologist as well.

Childhood

Beryl Gilroy [née Answick] was born in Springlands, Berbice, Guyana (then British Guiana) on 30 August 1924. She was raised by her maternal grandmother from the age of two following a period of illness. Through her childhood years she attended school infrequently, and at home was taught by her grandmother and grandfather. Her grandfather taught her to read whilst her grandmother schooled her in the art of herbs and local medicine. This meant that she developed a greater understanding of the folk culture. Gilroy described her grandmother as a ‘woman of elemental energies’.

Teacher training and Gilroy’s move to London

From the age of 12 Gilroy was in formal schooling and at 19 she attended Georgetown’s teacher training college, graduating with a first-class diploma in 1945. She arrived in London in 1952 and initially found it difficult to secure employment as a teacher. However, with her teaching career previously established in her hometown and further training in London (gaining a Diploma in Child Development and a BSc in Psychology from London University, she was soon able to gain valuable knowledge and experience of the English education system.

During this period she met her husband, Patrick, with whom she had two children. The death of her husband in 1975 affected her greatly.

Black Teacher and Gilroy’s career in education

In 1968 Gilroy was appointed as a deputy head teacher and in the following year she became the first Black woman headteacher in the London borough of Camden. Black Teacher, the autobiographical account of her teaching experiences, was published in 1976. Sadly, this also heralded the period in which Gilroy stopped writing for children. In the early 1970s she wrote for the pioneering reader series, Nippers (1970–75), edited by Leila Berg. New People at Twenty-Four, for example, addresses racism and interracial marriage – the first time such issues had been explored in a British series designed to teach children to read.

Psychology and Gilroy’s later writings

In 1982 Gilroy joined London University's Institute of Education and the Ilea's Centre for Multicultural Education. Gilroy’s desire for learning was strong and she studied psychology which in turn led to a doctorate in ethno-psychology.

In the mid-80s Gilroy returned to writing, publishing her first novel Frangipani House in 1986. This was swiftly followed by Boy Sandwich (1989), Steadman and Joanna: A Love in Bondage (1991), and a collection of poems, Echoes and Voices (1991). In 1994 Gilroy published Sunlight and Sweet Water, Gather the Faces, In Praise of Love and Children (written in 1959, but rejected by publishers at the time) and Inkle and Yarico. Her writing explores the experiences of the Black diaspora.

Gilroy’s last novel, The Green Grass Tango (2001), was published posthumously following her death in April of that year.

Further reading

Further information about the life of Beryl Gilroy can be found here via the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Related articles

Woman version: Beryl Gilroy's Black Teacher

Article by:
Sandra Courtman
Themes:
Exploring identity, Literature 1950–2000, Gender and sexuality

Beryl Gilroy was a pioneering teacher and writer. Tracing the critical reception of Gilroy's unconventional autobiography, Sandra Courtman argues for Black Teacher to be read as literature that is part of a tradition of black women's writing as a survival strategy.

Woman version: Beryl Gilroy's Black Teacher

Article by:
Sandra Courtman
Theme:
Authors, artists and activists

Beryl Gilroy was a pioneering teacher and writer. Tracing the critical reception of Gilroy's unconventional autobiography, Sandra Courtman argues for Black Teacher to be read as literature that is part of a tradition of black women's writing as a survival strategy.

In Praise of Love and Children: Beryl Gilroy’s arrival story

Article by:
Sandra Courtman
Themes:
The arrivants, Authors, artists and activists

Written in 1959 but not published until 1996, In Praise of Love and Children is a rare account of a woman’s experience of migration from the Caribbean. Sandra Courtman examines the challenges that Gilroy faced as a writer, before focussing on how her novel engages with memory, family and the traumatic legacies of slavery as its heroine establishes a new life in London.

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Photograph showing people arriving at London's Victoria Station from the Carribean via Southampton, mid-20th century

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Photograph showing people arriving at London's Victoria Station from the Carribean via Southampton, mid-20th century

Windrush Stories teaching pack (secondary students): Creative writing activities

Creative writing ideas and activities that draw on the histories, people and objects featured on Windrush Stories

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Related works

In Praise of Love and Children

Created by: Beryl Gilroy

In Praise of Love and Children (1996) overview In Praise of Love and Children is a novel that tells of the ...