E. R. Braithwaite, author of "To Sir, With Love"

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To Sir With Love
E. R. Braithwaite

Edward Ricardo Braithwaite (born June 27, 1920) is a Guyanese novelist, writer, teacher, and diplomat, best known for his stories of social conditions and racial discrimination against black people. He was born in Georgetown, Guyana.

Braithwaite had a privileged beginning in life: both his parents went to Oxford University and he describes growing up with education, achievement, and parental pride surrounding him.

He attended Queen's College, Guyana and then the City College of New York (1940). During World War II, he joined the Royal Air Force as a pilot - he would later describe this experience as one where he had felt no discrimination based on his skin colour or ethnicity. He went on to attend the University of Cambridge (1949), from which he earned a bachelor's degree and a doctorate in physics.

After the war, like many other ethnic minorities, despite his extensive training, Braithwaite could not find work in his field and, disillusioned, reluctantly took up a job as a schoolteacher in the East End of London. The book To Sir, With Love (1959) was based on his experiences there. His version of events at the school is contested by a former pupil, in Alfred Gardner's autobiography An East End Story (Gardner, London 2002).

While writing his book about the school, Braithwaite turned to social work and it became his job to find foster homes for non-white children for the London County Council. His harrowing experiences resulted in his second novel Paid Servant (1962). Braithwaite's numerous writings have primarily dealt with the difficulties of being an educated black man, a black social worker, a black teacher, and simply a human being in inhumane circumstances.

His best known book, To Sir, with Love, was made into a 1967 film of the same name starring Sidney Poitier, and adapted for Radio 4 in 2007 starring Kwame Kwei-Armah. Paid Servant was dramatized on Radio 4 the following year, again with Kwei-Armah in the lead role.

In 1973, the South African ban on Braithwaite's books was lifted and he reluctantly applied to visit the country. He was granted a visa and the status 'Honorary White' which gave him significantly more freedom and privileges than the indigenous black population, but less than the whites. He recorded the experiences and horror he witnessed during the six weeks he spent in South Africa in Honorary White (The Bodley Head, Ltd. Great Britain 1975).

Braithwaite continued to write novels and short stories throughout his long international career as an educational consultant and lecturer for UNESCO; permanent representative to the United Nations for Guyana; Guyana's ambassador to Venezuela; and academic.

He taught English studies at New York University; in 2002, was writer in residence at Howard University, Washington, D.C.; associated himself with Manchester Community College, Connecticut, during the 2005-2006 academic year as visiting professor, also serving as commencement speaker and receiving an honorary degree.

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