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Beryl Agatha Gilroy (née Answick) (30 August 1924 – 4 April 2001) was a novelist and teacher, and "one of Britain's most significant post-war Caribbean migrants". Born in what was then British Guiana (now Guyana), she moved in the 1950s to the United Kingdom, where she became the first black headteacher in London. She was the mother of academic Paul Gilroy.
Beryl Gilroy was born in Skeldon, Berbice, Guyana. She grew up in a large, extended family, largely under the influence of her maternal grandmother, Sally Louisa James (1868–1967), a herbalist, who managed the family small-holding, was a keen reader and imparted to the young Beryl stories of "Long Bubbies", Cabresses and Long Lady and a treasury of colloquial Guyanese proverbs.
Gilroy did not enter full-time schooling until she was 12. From 1943 to 1945, she attended teacher training college in Georgetown, gaining a first-class diploma. She subsequently taught and lectured on a Unicef nutrition programme. In 1951, at the age of 27, she was selected to attend university in the United Kingdom. Between 1951 and 1953 she attended the University of London pursuing a Diploma in Child Development.
Although Gilroy was a qualified teacher, racism prevented her getting a post for some time, and she had to work as a washer, a factory clerk and maid. She taught for a couple of years, married and spent the next 12 years at home bringing up and educating her children Darla and Paul, furthering her own higher education, reviewing and reading for a publisher. In 1968 she returned to teaching and eventually became the first Black headteacher in London, at Beckford School in West Hampstead. Her experiences of those years are told in Black Teacher (1976).
Later she worked as a multi-cultural researcher at the Institute of Education, University of London, and developed a pioneering practice in psychotherapy, working mainly with Black women and children. She was a co-founder in the early 1980s of the Camden Black Sisters group. She gained a PhD in counselling psychology from an American university in 1987 while working at the Institute of Education.
She died of a heart attack at the age of 76 on 4 April 2001. As noted by Roxann Bradshaw: "Two days later over one hundred Anglophone women writers from around the world gathered at Goldsmith College in London, where Dr Gilroy had been scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the 4th annual Caribbean Women Writers Association conference. The news of her death was received with great sorrow for the passing of one of the first wave of Anglophone women writers, whose contribution to Caribbean women's literature is invaluable."
Gilroy's creative writing began in childhood, as a teacher for children and then in the 1960s when she began writing what was later published by Peepal Tree Press as In Praise of Love and Children. Between 1970 and 1975 she wrote the pioneering children's series Nippers, which contain probably the first reflection of the Black British presence in UK writing for children.
It was not until 1986 that her first novel, the award-winning Frangipani House was published (Heinemann). It won a GLC Creative Writing Prize in 1982. Set in an old person's home in Guyana, it reflects one of her professional concerns: the position of ethnic minority elders and her persistent emphasis on the drive for human freedom. Boy Sandwich (Heinemann) was published in 1989, followed by Stedman and Joanna: A Love in Bondage (Vantage, 1991), and a collection of poems, Echoes and Voices (Vantage, 1991). Then came Sunlight and Sweet Water, Gather the Faces, In Praise of Love and Children and Inkle and Yarico (all Peepal Tree, 1994). Her last novel, The Green Grass Tango (Peepal Tree) was published in 2001, sadly after Beryl Gilroy’s death in April of that year.
Gilroy's early work examined the impact of life in Britain on West Indian families and her later work explored issues of African and Caribbean diaspora and slavery.
In 1998, a collection of her non-fiction writing, entitled Leaves in the Wind, came out from Mango Publishing. It included her lectures, notes, essays, dissertations and personal reviews.
Honours and recognition
She was honoured in 1990 by the Greater London Council for services to education, in 1995 received an honorary doctorate from the University of North London, and in 2000 was made an honorary fellow of the Institute of Education.
In 1996 she was honoured by the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars.
- Black Teacher, 1976
- Frangipani House, Heinemann, 1986
- Boy Sandwich, Heinemann, 1989
- Stedman and Joanna: A Love in Bondage, Vantage, 1991
- Echoes and Voices (poetry), Vantage, 1991
- Sunlight and Sweet Water, Peepal Tree Press, 1994
- Gather the Faces, Peepal Tree Press, 1994
- In Praise of Love and Children, Peepal Tree Press, 1994
- Inkle and Yarico, Peepal Tree Press, 1994
- Leaves in the Wind: Collected Writings, Mango Publishing, 1998
- The Green Grass Tango, Peepal Tree Press, 2001
- Bowman, Anna (28 May 2001). "Beryl Gilroy". The Independent. p. 6. Retrieved 4 October 2009.
- Fraser, Peter D. (18 April 2001). "Beryl Gilroy: An innovative Caribbean writer, novelist of the black diaspora and London's first black head teacher". The Guardian. p. 20. Retrieved 4 October 2009.
- Deosaran, Venessa, "Guyanese novelist Beryl Gilroy", Guyana Times International, November 24, 2011.
- Obano, Nisha, "Beryl Gilroy", Enciclopedia de Estudios Afroeuropeos.
- Akbar, Arifa (5 October 2004). "From Windrush to Ms Dynamite: 50 years of black British style". The Independent. pp. 12–13. Retrieved 4 October 2009.
- Zonneveldt, Mandi (1 May 2001). "First black to head a school". Herald Sun. p. 77.
- Momoh, Emily, "More Black History Month News". Black History Makers in Camden.
- Busby, Margaret (ed.), Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writings by Women of African Descent from the Ancient Egyptian to the Present, London: Vintage, 1993, p. 309.
- "Great Black British figures". UNISON Black History Month 2006 Online Briefing (UNISON). 2006. Retrieved 4 October 2009.
- Boyce Davies, Carole (2008). "Gilroy, Beryl Agatha". Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. pp. 470–472. ISBN 1-85109-700-7.
- Bradshaw, Roxann, "Beryl Gilroy's 'Fact-Fiction': Through the Lens of the 'Quiet Old Lady'", Callaloo, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Spring, 2002), pp. 381–400.
- Leaves in the Wind: Collected Writings, Mango Publishing, 1998.
- Peter D. Fraser, "Gilroy , Beryl Agatha (1924–2001)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, January 2005; online edition, January 2009; accessed 25 January 2015.
- Courtman, Sandra, "Gilroy, Beryl Agatha (1924–2001)", in Carole Elizabeth Boyce Davies (ed.), Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture ABC-CLIO, 2008, p. 470.
- Roxann Bradshaw, "Beryl Gilroy's 'Fact-Fiction': Through the Lens of the 'Quiet Old Lady'", Callaloo, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Spring, 2002), pp. 381–400.
- Sandra Courtman, "Women Writers and the Windrush Generation: A Contextual Reading of Beryl Gilroy’s In Praise of Love and Children and Andrea Levy’s Small Island". EnterText, Special Issue on Andrea Levy, 9 (2012): 84–104.