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Callaloo 25.2 (2002) 381-400

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Beryl Gilroy's "Fact-fiction"
Through The Lens Of The "Quiet Old Lady"

Roxann Bradshaw

The interview from which the following is taken is based on a series of conversations that took place by telephone (November 21, 2000), by e-mail (December-March, 2001), and in person at the home of Dr. Beryl Gilroy, in Camden, London (December 28 and 30, 2000). Four months later, on the morning of April 4, 2001, Beryl Gilroy died in London, suffering a fatal heart attack within hours of being admitted to the hospital. 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: Well, as I was saying, I am an ethno-psychologist and—because in ethno-psychology you study culture—when you study culture, all cultures, there are five areas that are common to all of them. One area is ordinal training (you have to teach them how to have bowel movements); you have to teach them how to eat; you have to wean them; you have to teach them how to assess the situation; and [you have to teach them] how to be independent—these are all common to everybody. So out of this ethno-psychology, I began to teach women. Not teach women how to write, but to teach, to counsel women who are under stress. All women, women who came here, are under stress; and what was common to all of them was that under stress their representation of their body changed and they reverted to all forms of speech like babbling. You hear a lot of women saying "but oh . . ."; it becomes ricochet speech, but it is babbling, it is going back; it is talking through the emotions. I don't write the typical type of love story books. I write about black women's oppression, in slavery, out of slavery, contemporary and historical, official facts, and so I use my work to teach people. I write poems, and I teach women how to affirm because we don't know how to affirm. The main area of affirmation is sexual in a black life because if they are . . . that comes out of history because breeding . . . the master told you who to go with and you breed and you did not learn to affirm your partner. So I used to have to teach these women, who came upstairs, how not to be ashamed to discuss their sexuality. [It is] not something in the dark. I am not saying that you should be vulgar, but you can talk about your sexuality with your partner without feeling embarrassed. And the males, they always want an innocent woman, the woman must always be innocent. It [End Page 381] is a hidden concealment of experience [which] does her more harm than good, because they get confused about themselves.

GILROY: When I write, I have a plan which is always an ethno-psychological plan, and in this plan I try to discuss experiencing identity. What identity is and how we experience it, both emotionally and within a social group. And in this social group it is always with black and white, and they are experiencing identity in different ways—and because of that they can't truly communicate. All the communication is—except on very rare occasions—superficial because their emotional experience is totally different. In the railroad stations these men would say, "Oh . . . you pretty!" Even the bus conductor had a kind of sexual interest. It all baffled them. They wanted to know if you were the same. When I met my husband [Pat], there was warmth in his heart. There was kindness and everything in his heart, and...


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