Seven Stories was very sad to hear of the death, on 10 August 2021, of Grace Hallworth, renowned children’s librarian and storyteller. Born in 1929 in Trinidad, Grace had a huge influence as both a librarian and storyteller in and outside the UK and contributed to discussions and policy making regarding multiculturalism and children’s books.

Grace arrived in the UK on a Churchill Fellowship, travelling from Trinidad via internships at Toronto and New York City public libraries. She was appointed children's librarian for Hertfordshire Libraries, serving in several key roles from 1957 to 1985. When she retired from Hertfordshire, Grace continued as a professional storyteller and helped establish The Society of Storytelling, becoming its first chair. Grace was made an honorary life member of YLG in recognition of her work.

Grace’s archive can be found at Seven Stories, and former Collections Director Sarah Lawrance tells us a bit more: “Grace Hallworth was among the first authors to be collected by Seven Stories. Our Co-Founder Elizabeth Hammill had known Grace since the 1980s, long before Seven Stories existed. Grace was working as a librarian and storyteller in Hertfordshire and was known for her pioneering efforts to share Caribbean stories and culture with children in the UK. Elizabeth, who was at that time children's bookseller at an independent bookshop in Newcastle invited Grace to speak at an event about folktales and storytelling alongside Michael Rosen and they got along famously. Later, on Elizabeth's recommendation, Grace participated in the Northern Children's Book Festival, which involved her travelling to schools in parts of County Durham where many of the children had never seen a Black person.

Once Seven Stories became established, Grace was keen to be involved, and her first archive donation was made before the Centre opened. I remember her coming to see the collection when we were still based in offices at St Peter's Marina (about a mile from where Seven Stories is now) - in her 80s she was still an inspiring, venerable presence. She had retired to Tobago but still visited the UK regularly. Grace returned to live in Hertfordshire a few years afterwards; she was still telling stories at the age of 90 when she last visited Newcastle.”

As a writer, Grace published several collections of stories and rhymes set in the Caribbean, which contributed to preserving and sharing the rich tradition of African folklore in the West Indies that has been passed through generations orally. Grace's body of work records these stories while also celebrating the multicultural reality of the Caribbean and encouraging readers to engage and retell these stories and become a part of this tradition.

Her work includes, among other things, books of Caribbean rhymes and songs (Down by the River), West Indian folk tales that range from origin stories (Cric Crac), to spooky stories about supernatural beings (Mouth Open Story Jump Out), and a whole collection of Anansi tales (A Web of Stories), as well as more contemporary stories, such as The Carnival Kite.

Professor Karen Sands O’Connor (Newcastle University), British Academy Global Professor of Children's Literature has written about the importance of Grace’s body of work. “Traditional literary forms are often used to embrace a nostalgic, or “once upon a time” view of a place; this is particularly true in children’s literature about the Caribbean, where folklore, nursery rhymes and singing games tend, intentionally or unintentionally, to fix Caribbean people in a subjected, rural past. Grace Hallworth is known for retelling traditional forms of literature for children from various parts of the Caribbean. But although her work focuses on traditional literature, tradition does not, for Hallworth, trap the region or its people in the past. Instead, heritage becomes an anchor for identity as well as a site for growth and dialogue, not only for Caribbean children, but even more particularly for children of Caribbean descent living in Great Britain. Her collecting and retelling of folktales and nursery rhymes, and her authorship of picture books detailing everyday life in the Caribbean, allow British child readers to see a modern, vibrant Caribbean that connects in multiple ways with their own lives in Britain.”

Grace’s archive is one of four archives which will form the basis for our upcoming Windrush Programme, which seeks to inspire children of Caribbean heritage to see themselves both represented within British literature, and as writers of the future.