Beryl Gilroy is heralded as one of the most extensively published Caribbean writers of her time. She is remembered as not only an innovative writer, but as a teacher and psychologist as well.
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 information about the life of Beryl Gilroy can be found via the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.