<strong><em>Contributor: Nisha Obano </em></strong>
Beryl Agatha Gilroy (née Answick) was a writer, teacher and psychotherapist. Of her many achievements, she is best known for being the UK’s first black head teacher and for her autobiographical account of those experiences in her aptly named memoir Black Teacher (1976). She was born on 30 August 1924 in Springland, Berbice, in what was then British Guiana. Her grandmother, Sally Louisa James, had the greatest influence upon Gilroy’s educational development. An herbalist and manager of a small holding, James was also a prolific reader and storyteller and instilled in Gilroy a passion for learning through creativity and exploration. These values inspired Gilroy’s own philosophy of education and, after beginning formal schooling at the age of twelve, Gilroy went to a teacher training college in Georgetown and qualified with a first class diploma in 1945. After working as a teacher on the Unicef nutrition programme and also as head of the infant section of the Board Street government school, in 1952, at the age of twenty-seven, Gilroy was selected for a place at the University of London and left British Guiana for England.
London in the 1950s was not the most welcoming of places for a young aspiring black woman. Despite her first class teaching certificate and a top class diploma in child development, Gilroy found it difficult to find a position as a teacher and was forced to search for employment in domestic service, dish washing and factory work. Eventually she was employed by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) and taught until 1956, years that would provide the source material for Black Teacher, her autobiographical account of the effects of class and race on educational experiences for teachers and pupils alike.
During this period, Gilroy was not entirely isolated in London; some who shared her political ideals in the Caribbean were now also residing in the UK: writer and teacher E. R. Braithwaite? shared Gilroy’s frustration with the educational establishment; and Andrew Salkey, writer and presenter of the BBC World Service Caribbean Voices programme, was very supportive of Gilroy’s writing in what was then a male-dominated milieu. She also found a strong companion in her husband Patrick. Their mixed-raced marriage being a novelty in the 1950s, both stood firm in the face of criticism and small-mindedness. Between 1956 and 1968, Gilroy stayed at home to look after and educate their children, Darla and Paul, and furthered her own education while reviewing for a publisher and writing textbooks for schools. In 1968 she returned to full time teaching when she became Deputy Head at Beckford Primary School, and was later promoted to Head Teacher. Between 1970 and 1975 Gilroy published the Nippers series, probably one of the first collections to reflect the Black British experience in the UK for children. In 1975, Beryl’s husband Patrick died.
Throughout her life, Gilroy had been developing an interest in psychotherapy, particularly in relation to education, and in the 1980s she turned her attention to networks of support. In the early 1980s she was a co-founder of the Camden Black Sisters group. In 1982, she left her Headship at Beckford and joined the Institute of Education and the ILEA’s Centre for Multicultural Education. Fusing her psychological knowledge with her extensive teaching experience, Gilroy developed a pioneering practice in psychotherapy working mainly with black women and children (focusing in particular on the psychological impact of the diasporic experience). In 1987 she gained a PhD in counselling psychotherapy in the USA and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Institute of Education in 2000 (Gilroy had also gained recognition in the USA and was honoured by the Association of African Women Writers and Scholars in 1996).
Gilroy had also been writing from an early age but her novels and other creative works remained largely unpublished until the 1980s. After winning the Greater London Council’s Creative Writing Prize in 1982, Gilroy’s first published novel Frangipani House appeared in 1986 with Heinemann. Set in a home for the elderly in Guyana, Frangipani House reveals many of the concerns that marked all of Gilroy’s works — a concern for both the young and old, particularly those who have been marginalised, as well as celebrating the freedom and power of the spirit. Frangipani House was followed by Boy Sandwich (Heinemann, 1989). Steadman and Joanna: A Love in Bondage and a collection of poems, Echoes and Voices, were both published in 1991 by Vantage. In 1994, Peepal Tree published In Praise of Love and Children, a novel that Gilroy had been working on in the 1960s but which had been seen as ‘too psychological’ for publication by numerous presses at the time. 1994 also saw the publication of Sunlight and Sweet Water, the story of Gilroy’s Berbice childhood, and Gather the Faces and Inkie and Yarico by Peepal Tree, who remained her publisher until her death in 2001. Her final novel The Green Grass Tango was published posthumously in the same year.
Beryl Gilroy died on 4 April 2001. In Gilroy’s obituary for the Guardian, Peter D Fraser wrote that Gilroy ‘was one of Britain’s most significant post-war Caribbean migrants’.
Works by Beryl Gilroy
Arthur Small. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.
‘Black Old Age … The Diaspora of the Senses?’. Black British Culture and Society: A Text Reader. Ed. Kwesi Owusu. London: Routledge, 1999.
Black Teacher. London: Cassell, 1976.
‘Black Teacher’ (extract). Ed. James Proctor. Writing Black Britain, 1948-1998: An
Interdisciplinary Anthology. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000.
Blue Water Readers. London: Longmans, 1961.
Blue Water Readers Teacher’s Guide: A handbook on the teaching of reading. London: Longmans, 1962.
Boy Sandwich. London: Heinemann International, 1989.
Bubu’s Street. London: Macmillan, 1975.
The Busy Book (Book 2). London: Longmans, 1961.
Carnival of Dreams. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes, 1980.
Echoes and Voices. New York: Vantage Press, 1991.
Frangipani House. London: Heinemann, 1986.
Gather the Faces. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 1996.
Grandpa’s Footsteps, Auntie Olive’s Wedding and Elvira. London: Macmillan, 1978.
Green and Gold Readers for Guyana. Ed. Ruth Thom. London: Longman Caribbean, 1971.
Green Grass Tango. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 2001.
In Bed. London: Macmillan, 1975.
In For A Penny. Illus. Simon Willby. London: Cassell, 1980.
Inkle and Yarico. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 1996.
In Praise of Love and Children. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 1996.
Knock at Mrs Herb’. Illus. Shyam Varma. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.
Language in Action. Level 4. Core (Fourways). Illus. Simon Wilby. London: Macmillan, 1980.
Leaves in the Wind: Collected Writings of Beryl Gilroy. Ed. Joan Anim-Addo. London: Mango Publishing, 1998.
New Shoes. Illus. Shyam Varma. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.
No More Pets. Illus. Margaret Belsky. London: Macmillan, 1973.
Once Upon A Time. Illus. Joan Beales. London: Macmillan, 1975.
Out in the Sun (Blue Water Reader, Book 1). London: Longmans, 1961.
Outings for Everyone. Illus. Prudence Seward. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.
The Paper Bag. Illus. Shyam Varma. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.
The Present. Illus. Nicole Goodwin. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.
Rice and Peas. Illus. Beryl Saunders. London: Macmillan, 1975.
Steadman and Joanna, A Love In Bondage: Dedicated Love in the Eighteenth
Century. New York: Vantage Press, 1991.
Sunlight on Sweet Water. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 1994.
A Visitor from Home. Illus. Shyam Varma. London: Macmillan, date unavailable.
Autobiography in Writing: Telling it All? (Daughters of Africa). London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 26 July 1986.
Childhood, Identity and Old Age. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 26 July 1986.
In Conversation. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 26 July 1986.
Rise Up and Recite! (Daughters of Africa Part Two). London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 10 Oct. 1992.
Akoma, Chiji. ‘Black Narratives and Critical Theory: Two Responses’. Review of Arms Akimbo by J Liddell and Y B Kemp. MFS: Moden Fiction Studies 48.1 (2002): 461-469.
Aldridge, Richard. Lessons from History of Education: The Selected Works of Richard Aldridge. London: Routledge, 2006.
Anim-Addo, J, A S Newson and L Strong-Leek. ‘Anguish and the Absurd: “Key Moments”, Recreated Lives, and the Emergence of New Figures of Black Womanhood in the Narrative Works of Beryl Gilroy’. Women Writers and Scholars: Winds of Change. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.
Arana, Victoria. Review of A Black British Canon? by G Low and M Wynne-Davies. MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 54.4 (2008): 909-912.
Boyce Davies, Carole. Black Women, Writing, Identity and Migration of the Subject. London: Routledge, 1994.
Boyce Davies, Carole and Meredith Gadsby. ‘Remembering Beryl Gilroy’. Jenda: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies 2.1 (2002).
Bradshaw, Roxanna. ‘Beryl Gilroy’s “Fact Fiction”: Through the Lens of the “Quiet Old Lady”’. Callaloo 25.2 (2002): 381-417.
Courtman, Sandra. ‘Beryl Gilroy’. Africa and the Americas: Culture and History. Ed. Richard M Juang and Noelle Morrissette. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2008.
—. ‘Beryl Gilroy’. Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture. Ed. Alison Donnell. London: Routledge, 2001.
—. ‘Beryl Gilory’. Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experience and Culture. Ed. Carole Boyce Davies. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2008.
—. ‘A Black British Canon?: The Uses of Beryl Gilroy’s Black Teacher and its Recovery in Literature’. Wasafiri 36 (2002): 51-55.
—. ‘“Lost Years”: The Occlusion of West Indian Women Writers in the Early Canon of Black British Writing’. Diasporic Literature and Theory, Where Now? Ed. Mark Shackleton. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009. 57-86.
—. ‘Not Good Enough or Not Man Enough? Beryl Gilroy as Anomaly in the Evolving Black British Canon’. A Black British Canon? Ed. Gail Low and Marion Wynne-Davies. Oxford: Macmillan Palgrave, 2006. 50-74.
—. ‘On Becoming A Published Writer in Britain: Beryl Answick Gilroy’. Dawtas Write Herstory, a celebration of black women writers. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 1996. 8-9.
—. Review of In Praise of Love and Children by Beryl Gilroy. Mango Season 6 (1996): 2.
—. ‘Women Writers and the Windrush Generation: A Contextual Reading of Gilroy’s In Praise of Love and Children and Levy’s Small Island’. Entertext (Autumn 2011).
Chancy, Myriam J A. Searching for Safe Spaces: Afro-Caribbean Writers in Exile. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997.
DeLoughrey, Elizabeth. Review of Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archaeology of Black Women’s Lives by J Sharpe. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 31.2 (2006): 556-560.
Dubey, Madhu. ‘Not Quite Freedom: Leveraging Agency in Slave Women’s Narratives’. Review of Ghosts of Slavery by J Sharpe. Novel: A Forum on Fiction 28.1 (2004, 2007): 107.
Duvivier, Sandra C. Review of Sucking Salt: Caribbean Women Writers, Migration and Survival by M Gadsby. Callaloo 31.2 (2008): 632-636.
Dyer, Rebecca. ‘London via the Caribbean: Migration Narratives and he City in Postwar British Fiction’. Diss. University of Texas at Austin, 2002.
Filipczak, Dorota. Review of Memory and Myth: Postcolonia Religion in Contemporary Guyanese Fiction and Poetry by F Darroch. Literature and Theology 24.1 (2010): 89-91.
Fulani, Ifeona. ‘Caribbean Women Writers and the Politics of Style: A Case for Literary Anancyism’. Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 9.1 (2005, 2007): 64-79.
Gadsby, Meredith M. Sucking Salt: Caribbean Women Writers, Migration and Survival. Columbia: U of Minnesota P, 2006.
Gyssels, Kathleen. ‘L’identite feminine et l’espace clos dans le roman caribeen: L’oeuvre de Simone et Andre Schwartz-Bart et de Beryl Gilroy’. Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 22.3/4 (1995): 787-801.
Hall, Catherine. Review of Englishness and Empire 1939 –1965 by W Webster.
Twentieth Century British History 17.1 (2006): 284-286.
Harris, A. ‘Tyrone Grainger and the Dilemma of Blackness in London’. African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal 4.2 (2011): 193-200.
Hoving, Isabel. In Praise of New Travellerse: Reading Caribbean Migrant Women’s Writing. Palo Alto: Stanford UP, 2001.
Langran, Phillip. Review of Searching for Safe Spaces by M Chancy. The Year’s Work in English Studies 81.1 (2002): 1053-1056.
Liddell, Janice and Yakini Belinda Kemp, ed. Arms Akimbo: Africana Women in Contemporary Literature. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 1999.
Low, Gail and Marion Wynne-Davies. A Black British Canon?. New York: Palgrave, 2006.
Maczynska, Magdalena. ‘The Aesthetics of Realism in Contemporary Black London’. Black British Aesthetics Today. Ed. R Victoria Arana. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007. 135-149.
Mardorossian, Carine M. Review of In Praise of New Travellers by I Hoving. Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 5.3 (2004): np.
Mason-John, Valerie. ‘Aesthetics of the Trans-Raised Diasporic Black Britain’. Black British Aesthetics Today. Ed. R Victoria Arana. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2007. 337-345.
McLeod, John. Beginning Postcolonialism. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000.
Minto, Deonne N. Review of Caribbean Women Writers and Globalization. Callaloo 31.2 (2008): 628-632.
Morris, Kathryn E. ‘Jamaica Kincaid’s Haunted Bodies: Engendering a Carib(bean) Woman’. Callaloo 25.3 (2002): 954-968.
Page, Kezia. Transnational Negotiatios in Caribbean Diasporic Literature: Remitting the Text. London: Routledge, 2011.
Proctor, James. Dwelling Places: Postwar Black British Writing. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2003.
Robinson, Jane. ‘The Art of Listening: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Women Travellers and Their Work’. Review of In Praise of New Travellers by I Hoving. Journal of Women’s History 16.1 (2004): 165-172.
Salvant, Shawn. Review of Ghosts of Slavery by J Sharpe. American Literature 79.1 (2007): 194-196.
Scott, Helen. Caribbean Women’s Writing and Globalization: Fictions of Independence. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006.
—. The Process of Postcolonizing’. Callaloo 25.3 (2002): 994-996.
Sharpe, Jenny. Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archaeology of Black Women’s Lives. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2003.
Skinner, Lee. Review of In Praise of New Travellers I Hoving. NWSA Journal 15.2 (2003): 175-179.
Souza, Pascale de. ‘Flotsam in the Migratory Wake: Relating the Plight of the Old in Frangipani House and Un plat de porc aux bananes vertes’. Comparative Literature Studies 39.2 (2002): 146-161.
Springer, Jennifer Thorington. ‘Reconfigurations of Caribbean History: Michelle Cliff’s Rebel Women’. Medridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 7.2 (2007): 43-60.
Tarver, A, A S Newson and L Stong-Leek. ‘Frangipani House: Beryl Gilroy’s Praise Song For Grandmothers’. Women Writers and Scholars: Winds of Change, Conference proceedings, Apr. 1996, Florida. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.
Ward, A. ‘Postcolonial Interventions into the Archive of Slavery: Transforming Documents into Monuments in Beryl Gilory’s Stedman and Joanna’. The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 45.2 (2010): 245-258.
Webster, Wendy. Englishness and Empire 1939-1965. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.
—. Imagining Home: Gender, ‘Race’ and National Identity, 1945-1964. London: Routledge, 1998.
Wright, Michelle M. Review of Sucking Salt: Caribbean Women Writers by M Gadsby and Caribbean Women Writers and Globalization by Helen Scott. American Literature 80.1 (2007, 2008): 183-185.