G is for Beryl Gilroy (1924–2001)

Although Beryl Gilroy is probably known to most readers of Caribbean literature for her fictional works published in the 1980s and 1990s, her commitment to writing and to Caribbean readers dates back to the 1960s and is also testimony to her lifelong work as an educator. Born in Skeldon Village, Guyana, in 1924, Gilroy obtained a teaching diploma in Guyana before migrating to the United Kingdom in 1951, where she completed a degree in English and Psychology and later attained a doctorate in Counseling Psychology. Part of the Windrush generation, whose experiences are poignantly articulated in her writing, Gilroy initially struggled to find work on account of racism, but eventually was appointed Head at Beckford School, north London in 1969—the first black head teacher in England. Her ground-breaking autobiography Black Teacher (1976) is critically reassessed by Sandra Courtman in ‘Woman version: Beryl Gilroy’s Black Teacher’.

Gilroy began her writing career in the 1960s, whilst homeschooling her children, Darla Gilroy and the acclaimed public intellectual, Paul Gilroy. Her first publications were sixteen award-winning readers for children, The Nippers Series, published throughout the 1960s, followed by her Green and Gold Readers for Guyana (1967-71). Gilroy was already writing fiction during this period, including In Praise of Love and Children that was completed in 1959 but not published until 1996. 

 

Gilroy’s novels capture life in both the Caribbean and in Britain with a particular focus on the lives of black women, children and the elderly, as seen in first novels Frangipani House (1986) and Boy-Sandwich (1989) both published in the Heinemann Caribbean Writers series. In 1991, the novel Stedman and Joanna: A Love in Bondage and the poetry collection Echoes and Voices were published with Vantage. Her novels In Praise of Love and Children (1996), Inkle and Yarico (1996), Gather the Faces (1996), and The Green Grass Tango (2001) were published by Peepal Tree Press, together with her autobiographically-informed story collection, Sunlight on Sweet Water (1994). Leaves in the Wind: Collected Writings (1998), edited by Joan Anim-Addo, is a fascinating nonfiction collection. Scholars of Caribbean women’s writings, including Joan Anim-Addo, Carole Boyce Davies, Alison Donnell, Sandra Courtman, and Susheila Nasta, have discussed the centrality of Gilroy’s work to Caribbean-British literature and its importance for revising a male-centred Windrush perspective.

Marta Fernández Campa

More about the author

A podcast episode of The Dead Ladies Show dedicated to Gilroy’s legacy.

A Guardian review of the 2021 edition of Gilroy’s 1976 memoir, Black Teacher.

Peepal Tree Press offers a profile of Gilroy and selection of her books.

An interview with Gilroy, by Sandra Courtman and Susheila Nasta, published in Wasafiri.

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