Walcott, Derek (23 January 1930 – )
Derek Walcott (23 January 1930 – )
University of the West Indies, Jamaica
See also the Walcott entries in DLB 117: Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers, First Series; DLB Yearbook: 1981; and DLB Yearbook: 1992.
BOOKS: 25 Poems (Port of Spain: Guardian, 1948); Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos (Bridgetown, Barbados: Advocate, 1949);
Henri Christophe: A Chronicle in Seven Scenes (Bridgetown, Barbados: Advocate, 1950);
Poems (Kingston, Jamaica: City Printery, 1951);
Harry Dernier (Bridgetown, Barbados: Advocate, 1952);
The Sea at Dauphin: A Play in One Act (Mona, Jamaica: Extra-Mural Department, University College of the West Indies, 1954);
lone: A Play with Music (Mona, Jamaica: Extra-Mural Department, University of the West Indies, 1957);
Ti-Jean: A Play in One Act (Kingston, Jamaica: Extra-Mural Department, University College of the West Indies, 1958);
In a Green Night: Poems, 1948–1960 (London: Cape, 1962);
Selected Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1964);
The Castaway and Other Poems (London: Cape, 1965);
Malcauchon; or, The Six in the Rain: A Play in 1 Act (Port of Spain: Extra-Mural Department, University College of the West Indies., 1966);
The Gulf, and Other Poems (London: Cape, 1969); republished as The Gulf: Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970);
Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970; London: Cape, 1972)–comprises “What the Twilight Says: An Overture”; The Sea at Dauphin; Ti-Jean and His Brothers; Malcauchon; or, The Six in the Rain; and Dream on Monkey Mountain;
Another Life (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1973; London: Cape, 1973);
Sea Grapes (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1976; London: Cape, 1976);
The Joker of Seville & O Babylon!: Two Plays (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1978; London: Cape, 1979);
The Star-Apple Kingdom (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979; London: Cape, 1980);
Remembrance & Pantomime: Two Plays (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980);
The Fortunate Traveller (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1981; London: Faber & Faber, 1982);
Selected Poetry, edited by Wayne Brown (London & Kingston, Jamaica: Heinemann, 1981);
Midsummer (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984; London & Boston: Faber & Faber, 1984);
Collected Poems, 1948–1984 (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986; London: Faber & Faber, 1992);
Three Plays: The Last Carnival; Beef, No Chicken; and A Branch of the Blue Nile (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986);
The Arkansas Testament (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1987; London: Faber & Faber, 1988);
The Poet in the Theatre (London: Poetry Book Society, 1990);
Omeros (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990; London: Faber & Faber, 1990);
The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory: The Nobel Lecture (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993; London: Faber & Faber, 1993);
The Odyssey: A Stage Version, adapted from Homer (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993; London: Faber & Faber, 1993);
The Bounty (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997; London: Faber & Faber, 1997);
The Capeman: A Musical, by Walcott and Paul Simon (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998);
What the Twilight Says: Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998; London: Faber & Faber, 1998);
Tiepolo’s Hound (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000; London: Faber & Faber, 2000);
The Haitian Trilogy (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002)–comprises Henri Christophe, Drums and Colours, and The Haitian Earth;
Walker; and, The Ghost Dance (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002);
The Prodigal (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004; London: Faber & Faber, 2005).
Editions: Selected Poetry, edited by Wayne Brown (London, Kingston & Port of Spain: Heinemann, 1981);
Another Life: Fully Annotated, edited by Edward Baugh and Colbert Nepaulsingh (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2004);
Selected Poems, edited by Baugh (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007).
PLAY PRODUCTIONS: Henri Christophe, Castries, St. Lucia, St. Joseph’s Convent, 9 September 1950; London, 1951;
Paolo and Francesca, Castries, St. Lucia, St. Joseph’s Convent, 1951;
The Wine of the Country, Mona, University College of the West Indies, Jamaica, The Dramatic Theatre, 1953;
The Sea at Dauphin, Port of Spain, Whitehall Players Theatre, 13 August 1954; London, 1960;
Ione, Kingston, Jamaica, Ward Theatre, 16 March 1957;
Ti-Jean and His Brothers, Castries, St. Lucia, R. C. Boys Infant School, 16 December 1957; revised, Town Hall Spain, June 1970; New York, Delacorte Theatre, 20 July 1972;
Drums and Colours, Port of Spain, Trinidad, Royal Botanical Gardens, 25 April 1958;
Malcauchon; or, Six in the Rain, Castries, St. Lucia, Castries Town Hall, 12 March 1959; produced again as Six in the Rain, London, 1960; produced again as Malcochon, in An Evening of One Acts, New York, 25 March 1969;
The Charlatan, with music by Fred Hope and Rupert Denison, Port of Spain, Little Carib Theatre Workshop, 1962;
Dream on Monkey Mountain, Toronto, Central Library Theatre, 12 August 1967; New York, St. Mark’s Playhouse, 9 March 1971;
The Isle Is Full of Noises, Hartford, Conn., John W. Huntington Theatre, 16 April 1970;
In a Fine Castle, University College of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, Creative Arts Centre, October 1970, 1971; revised as The Last Carnival, Port of Spain, Government Training Center, 1 July 1982;
Franklin, Port of Spain, Bishop’s Auditorium, 14 April 1973;
The Joker of Seville, with music by Gait MacDermot, Port of Spain, Little Carib Theatre, 28 November 1974;
O Babylon!, with music by MacDermot, Port of Spain, Little Carib Theatre, 19 March 1976;
Remembrance, St. Croix, U.S. V.I., Dorsch Centre, 22 April 1977; New York, Shakespeare Festival, 24 April 1979;
Pantomime, Port of Spain, Little Carib Theatre, 12 April 1978; London, BBC, 25 January 1979;
Beef, No Chicken, Port of Spain, Little Carib Theatre, 30 April 1981;
A Branch of the Blue Nile, Bridgetown, Barbados, Stage One, 25 November 1983;
The Haitian Earth, Castries, St. Lucia, The Morne, August 1984;
To Die for Grenada, Trinidad, Trinidad Theatre Workshop, 1986;
Ghost Dance, Hartwick College, N.Y, Cardboard Alley Theater, November 1989;
Steel, Cambridge, Mass., American Repertory Theatre, 3 April 1991; revised, Port of Spain, Queen’s Hall, September 2005;
Walker, Boston, Boston Athenaeum, 9 December 1993; revised, Boston, Playwrights Theatre, November 2001;
The Capeman, by Walcott and Paul Simon, New York, Marquis Theatre, 29 January 1998.
SELECTED PERIODICAL PUBLICATIONS-UNCOLLECTED: “His Is the Pivotal One About Race” [review of Denis Williams’s Other Leopards], Sunday Guardian, 1 December 1963, p. 3;
“A Dilemma Faces W[est] I[ndian] Artists,” Sunday Guardian, 12 January 1964, p. 3;
“The White Devil: A Story of Christmas,” Sunday Guardian Magazine, 25 December 1966, p. 20;
“Derek’s Most West Indian Play,” Sunday Guardian Magazine, 21 June 1970, p. 7;
“Native Women Under Sea-Almond Trees: Musings on Art, Life, and the Island of St. Lucia,” House and Garden, 156 (1985): 115, 161–163;
“A Colonial’s Eye View of the Empire,” Tri-Quarterly, 65 (Winter 1986): 73–77;
“Caligula’s Horse,” Kunapipi, 11 (1989): 138–142; republished in After Europe, edited by Stephen Slemon and Helen Tiffin (Sydney: Dangaroo Press, 1989), pp. 138–142;
“Derek Walcott: The Poet in the Theatre,” Poetry Review, 80 (Winter 1990/1991): 4–8;
“The Elegist” [review of Adam Zagajewski’s Without End: New and Selected Poems], New Republic, 20 (May 2002): 31–35.
When Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992, he was only the second writer from the Caribbean, and the first from the Anglophone Caribbean, to have done so. His precursor, the 1960 winner Saint John Perse (Alexis Saint-Leger Leger), was hardly known in the wider Caribbean, having left his native Guadeloupe at age eleven to live in France, the land of his forebears. Although some of Perse’s earlier work is based on memories of his island childhood, he was not identified as a Caribbean poet in the Nobel citation, nor did he in his banquet speech mention the Caribbean.
By contrast, Walcott has consistently identified himself as a Caribbean poet.
Walcott’s sense of his life’s work as being dedicated to the good of the Caribbean reaches its discursive fulfillment in his Nobel lecture. His international acclaim affirms the importance of small places and belies any notion that writers from the outposts of world power who focus on the concerns of their place and people thereby render their work too regional or parochial. His Omeros (1990), which was immediately hailed by the Western literary world as a great modern variation on a classical epic, is at the same time, as he describes it, an act of homage to St. Lucia. He has been a wanderer, whether of imagination or in actual geographical fact, whose wandering takes its meaning from his deep attachment to home.
Derek Alton Walcott was born in Castries on St. Lucia, one of the Windward Islands of the West Indies, on 23 January 1930. St. Lucia is a mountainous island of lush tropical vegetation, with rain forests, picturesque bays, and enticing white-sand beaches, famous for its volcanic mountain lake, Soufrière, and its Pitons, spectacular twin peaks rising out of the sea. In the year of Walcott’s birth, the island, only 238 square miles, had a population of less than 80,000. In 2005 the population was roughly 160,000. In 1930 there were only two secondary schools on the island, one for boys and one for girls, and that situation remained unchanged until 1963. It is remarkable, then, that such a small place should have produced two Nobel laureates, the other being Sir Arthur Lewis (Economics, 1979). The apparent inconsequentiality of the island has been a dynamic of Walcott’s inversely proportionate celebration of it in his work.
In addition to the landscape, various features of the St. Lucian society in which Walcott grew up became important concerns of his writing and factors in his depiction of the Caribbean. These elements include divisions of class, color, race, and culture, all aspects of the legacy of colonialism and slavery. Particular areas of significance within these categories include language, religion, folklore, and the economic deprivation of the black majority. Walcott’s personal origins and family context conditioned his views on these matters. One of the impressive characteristics of his writing is the way in which he integrates personal, autobiographical material into his presentation of public, communal issues.
Walcott was born into a small, brown-skinned bourgeoisie. His family enjoyed some social status while being of modest means. Their immediate social circle constituted a Protestant minority in a population that is still 90 percent Roman Catholic. Both his grandfathers were white, the paternal being English, from the island of Barbados, and the maternal being Dutch, from the island of Saint Marten. In both instances, the marriage (in the case of his paternal grandfather) or casual liaison (in the case of the maternal) with a woman of color would have been unacceptable according to received morality and establishment norms of class, color, and respectability. His maternal grandmother was a servant in the house of his grandfather, who was a plantation owner and trader of the wealthy Van Romondt family.
Walcott’s mulatto sailor-poet Shabine, protagonist of “The Schooner Flight” (from The Star-Apple Kingdom, 1979), is a richly suggestive persona deriving from Walcott’s personal origins and ethnic admixture. He is one representation of Walcott’s self-searching confrontation with the shades of his ancestors, white or black, that has driven his work. He represents the “mulatto consciousness” that has been much advanced in Walcott criticism and drawn on by Walcott himself in some of his theoretical statements. But, whereas this origin and consciousness are often regarded as a limitation to his view of the Caribbean, he himself celebrates it as the strength of the region and its potential gift to the world.
Walcott and his twin brother, Roderick, were not yet two years old when their father, Warwick Walcott, died of mastoiditis. Their sister, Pamela, was two years older than they. Their mother, Alix Maarlin Walcott, was popularly known as Teacher Alix, headmistress of the Methodist Infant School. She impressed Derek by her robust application to the hard challenge of bringing up her young family single-handedly, and by her devotion to and respect for the memory of her husband. Warwick Walcott, a civil servant, was a watercolorist of some talent and also wrote verses. His son has cherished the memory of the paintings and books that he left, and soon came to regard his own single-minded commitment to the artistic life as being a matter of completing what his father had begun. This consciousness deepens the father-son quest theme that has persisted in his writing, as well as the theme of the master-apprentice relationship, an idea that he has promoted passionately.
The young Walcott, inspired by his father’s example, for a long time considered that he would make a career of painting, or at least equally divide his attention between painting and poetry. This inclination was encouraged when, in his teens, he had as his unofficial painting tutor a family friend, Harold Simmons, the Harry celebrated in Walcott’s poetic autobiography, Another Life (1973). Simmons, a civil servant, was then St. Lucia’s leading painter, albeit of modest ability. Walcott’s zeal for painting was at this time also fired by his coeval and painting partner under Simmons’s guidance, Dunstan St. Omer, who became the Gregorias of Another Life.
Simmons’s mentorship of Walcott was a matter not only of painting but also of the wide range of his cultural interests and his deep commitment to understanding and interpreting his island and its culture. He was an amateur anthropologist, folklorist, botanist, and lepidopterist. Walcott had the benefit of his library and his collection of classical recordings. Simmons recognized that St. Omer was more naturally the painter, and Walcott more naturally the poet, and Walcott by his late teens had decided that he would concentrate on being a poet. However, painting remained his avocation, and he has returned to it increasingly in his later years. His painterly eye has subtly colored his writing, and painting itself–the idea and nature of it, the challenge, the difficulty, the excitement of the physical act of painting–has been a distinguishing concern of his poetry.
Walcott’s gift for writing and directing drama must also have found early nurture, even if subconsciously, in the concerts and minor theatricals in which his parents’ circle engaged for their entertainment. His mother sewed costumes for the performances, and her son recalls her reciting William Shakespeare around the house. There was also the life of the streets, a veritable theater of a different kind, which he and his brother, who also became a considerable playwright, were enthralled by, even if they were not able to participate in it.
Walcott’s formal education steeped him in mainstream English literature as well as French and Latin. At St. Mary’s College in Castries he received an English-grammar-school education. But he also read widely around the school syllabus, which was geared toward the School Certificate examinations set by the Cambridge Overseas Examinations Syndicate. This wide reading was to a great extent made possible by his father’s library and those of older family friends who recognized his precocious literary gift. His first two books of poetry, 25 Poems (1948) and Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos (1949), published when he was in his late teens and before he entered university, bear witness to his impressive reading in modern English poetry: T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and Dylan Thomas. There was also the American Walt Whitman, and, in addition to the French and Latin poets on the school curriculum, there was Dante.
When Walcott was only fourteen, a poem of his, titled simply “1944,” appeared in the island newspaper, The Voice of St. Lucia (2 August 1944). It signaled not only the presence of a prodigy but also the capacity of Walcott’s poetry to be controversial. In its forty-four lines of more-than-competent blank verse, a blend of Miltonic and Wordsworthian elements, the poem advanced, reverentially, the idea of God in Nature–explicitly against the idea of being taught about God by Christian dogma. Three days later the paper published a reply by Reverend C. M. Jesse, FMI (Brothers of Mary Immaculate), a highly influential cleric. While welcoming the poetic enthusiasm and promise of youth, Jesse decorously but firmly chided the poet, not only for some unspecified vagueness of style and technique, but more so for teaching “untruth.” As a critique of the poet in Walcott, the priest’s rejoinder was barbed by the fact that it too was in verse, rhyming sestets of an Augustan quality and titled “On Reading the Poem ’1944.’” On 9 August the paper carried a letter captioned “The Offending Poem,” from a reader who used the pseudonym “A seeker.” The writer found Jesse’s poem to lack the “beauty” of Walcott’s, and encouraged the youngster to continue his “search” for God and, presumably, for success in poetry. Walcott has also written that his first published collection was savagely attacked in the Port of Spain Gazette in a review by the Catholic archbishop of Port of Spain. This review has so far not been unearthed.
Having failed to win the one annual Island Scholarship, which would have taken him to study at an English university, Walcott taught at his alma mater for three years. This period was a heady, productive one for him. He published his first two collections of poetry as well as Henri Christophe: A Chronicle in Seven Scenes, the play that definitively marked his promise as a dramatist and that was produced to acclaim in 1950 by the St. Lucia Arts Guild, which he had helped to found earlier in the same year. The creativity of this period was heightened by two events, one public, the other personal: a fire that devastated Castries in 1948, and Walcott’s experience of first love, with the woman called Anna in Another Life.
In October 1950 Walcott’s need to get out of the narrow confines of his beloved island was met when he entered the fledgling University College of the West Indies (UCWI), at Mona, Jamaica, on a scholarship awarded by the British Colonial Development and Welfare organization. He was one of the first students of the Faculty of Arts. He read for the B.A. General degree in English, French, and Latin. The College (which later became the University of the West Indies) was affiliated with the University of London, and the program that Walcott followed was strictly that of the parent university. The syllabus in English was quite conservative, a history of the literature of England. The professor and head of the small department, whose three faculty members were all white expatriates, was an Englishman, a Cambridge graduate who had studied under the renowned F. R. Leavis, exponent of the idea of the Great Tradition. Walcott wrote essays on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Piers Plowman, Christopher Marlowe, John Webster, Shakespeare, John Donne, George Herbert, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847). One of Walcott’s lecturers in French, a Scotsman, was most impressed by his wide reading, and in particular by the fact that he quoted from Dante’s Inferno in one of his French exams.
Walcott was awarded the B.A. degree, Second Division, in 1953, but he had given scant attention to his studies. He applied himself even less when he read for the postgraduate Diploma in Education the following year, and he did not successfully complete the program. In 1998, in his keynote address to a gathering of graduates held at Mona to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the university, he spoke scathingly of the formal education to which he had been exposed at the UCWI. He cited the curriculum and the Englishness of the lecturers. He lamented that the library had no New World or American literature.
However, Walcott also acknowledged the positive side to his days at Mona. He made stimulating friendships with other free-spirited and creative students, and he became the leading force in extracurricular student activity in literature, theater, and painting. He was founder and first editor of the student magazine. Two lasting literary friendships he made during his years in Jamaica were with older men: John Figueroa, poet and critic, and John Hearne, novelist. Figueroa, a professor in the Department of Education at Mona, became a leading critical exponent of Walcott’s work. Both men are memorialized in canto 18 of Tiepolo’s Hound (2000).
The period from 1954 to 1958 was a restless time for Walcott. In August 1954 he married Faye Moyston, a Jamaican whom he had met early in his undergraduate days, when she worked as secretary to the director of the UCWI Department of Extra-Mural Studies. The couple produced a son, Peter, who became a gifted painter, but who has been dogged by ill health. The marriage soon faltered, and the couple separated in 1956 and were divorced in 1959. As Walcott’s biographer, Bruce King, has suggested, a few of Walcott’s uncollected poems of this time are sharp-edged with a bitter passion that seems driven by the breakdown of the marriage.
Between 1954 and 1957 Walcott did brief teaching stints, first at the Grenada Boys’ Secondary School, then at his own St. Mary’s College, and finally at Jamaica College, another high school for boys, in Kingston. In 1957 he also worked as feature writer for the Jamaican weekly Public Opinion, writing on literature and theater. During his years in Jamaica in the 1950s, he came increasingly into the local limelight, especially through the many productions of his plays, including Henri Christophe, The Charlatan (published in 1962), The Sea at Dauphin (1954), The Wine of the Country (1953), and lone (1957). He directed most of these productions himself. Also in the 1950s his poetry began to reach the wider, though still small, West Indian literary public, not only because of the Jamaican exposure but also especially through publication in the Barbadian little magazine Bim, and through broadcast on the “Caribbean Voices” program of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s World Service. Simmons had brought Walcott’s poetry to the attention of Frank Colly-more, editor of Bim.Collymore immediately became an enthusiastic promoter of Walcott. Twenty Walcott poems, including the groundbreaking sonnet sequence “Tales of the Islands,” appeared in Bim, between 1949 and 1959, and another seven between 1960 and 1969. Collymore recommended Walcott’s work to Henry Swanzy, producer of “Caribbean Voices,” a program whose audience was almost exclusively West Indian.
A crucial turning point came for Walcott when he was invited to write a play to be performed as part of an arts festival to mark the inauguration of the political Federation of the West Indies in 1958. Walcott was a keen federalist, and the federalist “dream” had been nurtured on the Mona campus in the 1950s, with the coming together, for the first time in the Caribbean, of so many bright young minds of the region. The festival was to take place in Port of Spain, where the Federal Parliament was to be located. This development in Walcott’s career led, directly and indirectly, to a new kind and a new level of creative achievement and satisfaction, and to a new stability in his emotional and domestic life.
Ione had been premiered in Jamaica in 1957 by Errol Hill’s short-lived Federal Theatre company, a project for the development of West Indian theater. Hill had directed Henri Christophe in London in the early 1950s and later collaborated with Walcott on other theater projects. In September 1957, under the aegis of the UCWI Extra-Mural Studies Department and with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, Walcott, along with Hill and Noel Vaz (both talented theater directors and drama tutors with the Extra-Mural Department) traveled to North America to meet with Tyrone Guthrie, the acclaimed director of the Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford, Ontario. Their hope was to attract Guthrie to direct the arts festival and Walcott’s commissioned play, Drums and Colours.Guthrie declined; the play, directed by Vaz and Dagmar Butt, opened on 25 April 1958.
Drums and Colours, a pageant-chronicle, encapsulates in four main episodes the history of the Caribbean from imperial conquest and colonization to the immediate post-Emancipation people’s struggle for economic justice and freedom. Each episode centers on the story of a great historical figure: Christopher Columbus, Sir Walter Ralegh, Toussaint L’Ouverture, and George William Gordon, in chronological order. The first two represented the European imperial adventure in the Caribbean; the latter two the struggle of the oppressed people, the African slaves and their descendants, against repression. Walcott gives the form of the play a Caribbean quality by framing it in a popular Caribbean performance mode based on the Trinidad Carnival.
As a result of the notice he attracted through Drums and Colours, Walcott received a Rockefeller Fellowship to study drama in New York. There he was instructed in directing by José Quintero, artistic director of the Circle in the Square theater. He also sat in on rehearsals at the Phoenix Theatre. While in New York, Walcott saw the Japanese movies Rashomon (1950) and Ugetsu monogatari (1953), which influenced his attempt to fashion a West Indian theater style.
Although he was learning and writing, Walcott was not happy in New York. His material circumstances were not comfortable, and he had unpleasant firsthand experience of America’s black/white divide, as reflected, for example, in the poem “Blues” (1968). Lonely and homesick, he cut short his stay in New York and returned to the Caribbean in mid 1959. After a brief visit to St. Lucia, he went to Trinidad, which was close enough to home but able to provide an ambience more agreeable to his creative aspirations. Indeed, Trinidad became his second home, and when, in his Nobel lecture, he tries to imagine “the proportions of the ideal Caribbean city,” he configures them in images of Port of Spain. In some of the many homecoming moments, actual or imagined, that have been described in his poetry over the years, home is imagined as Trinidad, and its Santa Cruz Valley has provided imagery for the idea of the beauty and light of an earthly place of peace. His love for Trinidad was deepened by his love for Margaret Ruth Maillard, a Trinidadian, who in 1960 became his second wife. Maillard was most supportive and of practical assistance to Walcott in his work. She was often the one to write on Walcott’s behalf to his publishers, giving updates on his progress with manuscripts or dealing with other business matters. The marriage was a key factor in the productivity and relative stability he enjoyed over most of the next two decades.
They produced two daughters, Elizabeth and Anna, repeatedly and lovingly alluded to in his poetry.
When Walcott returned to Trinidad in 1959, Beryl McBurnie, the doyenne of modern and Caribbean dance on the island, offered him the use of her Little Carib Theatre for workshop sessions with local actors. The Little Carib Theatre Workshop soon became the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW). In 1966 it got a space of its own, which the company named the Basement Theatre, when they were able to rent the disused bar in the basement of the Bretton Hall hotel. The TTW flourished and became an historic contribution to Caribbean development. Here, for the first time, was a sustainable repertory theater and the foundation of professional theater in the West Indies. It was the most important development to date in the evolution of a West Indian theater, with its director-playwright writing for and directing a group of dedicated and in some cases brilliant actors. The relationship was mutually rewarding. Although the company did not limit themselves to West Indian plays, they particularly impressed audiences with their productions, in the 1970s, of what became Walcott classics: a revised and improved Ti-Jean and His Brothers (premiered in 1957), Dream on Monkey Mountain (premiered in 1967), and The Joker of Seville (performed in 1974, published in 1978). All of these plays used Caribbean song, dance, and gesture, as well as Caribbean Creole speech, to seminal effect. Ti-Jean and His Brothers and Dream on Monkey Mountain, building on The Sea at Dauphin and Malcauchon (premiered in 1959, published in 1966), gave the deprived folk–fisherman, woodcutter, charcoal burner, peasant–a voice as subjects of a drama that addressed social injustice and deprivation as legacies of colonialism. The plays drew on St. Lucian folklore, folkways, and folk performance in Walcott’s quest for a Caribbean theater form.
For most of the 1960s Walcott was also a feature writer for The Trinidad Guardian, first as a staff member and later as a freelance contributor. He wrote on the arts and culture, including reviews of books, theater, cinema, and art exhibitions. He regarded this writing as hackwork, but the many uncollected pieces include items that deserve permanent attention and are valuable markers of the evolution of his thought. The 1960s and the 1970s were also the period when he gained international stature as a poet. In 1962 In a Green Night: Poems, 1948–1960, his first commercially published collection, appeared. Walcott had met Alan Ross, editor of The London Magazine, when Ross visited Trinidad early in 1960. Ross was impressed by Walcott’s poems and was soon publishing some of them in the magazine. Early in 1961 he sent to Jonathan Cape, with his recommendation, the manuscript of In a Green Night.Walcott the dramatist also received some exposure in England around this time. In 1960 The Sea at Dauphin and Malcauchon (as Six in the Rain) were presented in London by New Day Theatre Company, a project of the Jamaican actor-director Lloyd Reckord, in collaboration with the English Stage Society.
In a Green Night, consolidating Walcott’s early promise, included such soon-to-be-famous pieces as “A Sea Chantey,” a litany of his love for the islands; “A City’s Death by Fire”; “Ruins of a Great House,” which wrestled with the understandable Caribbean rage at a history centered on slavery; and “A Far Cry from Africa,” in which the poet defined himself, in the now well-known phrase, as “divided to the vein.” “A Sea Chantey” received the Guinness Award for Poetry in 1960.
The scope of Walcott’s international visibility widened when Farrar, Straus (later Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) of New York published in 1964 his Selected Poems, which included a selection from In a Green Night and some new poems, all but one of which appeared in The Castaway and Other Poems (1965). Of particular pleasure and encouragement to Walcott in this development was the part played by Robert Lowell. In the summer of 1962, not long after In a Green Night had come out, Walcott met Lowell, when Lowell, his then wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, and their daughter, Harriet, stopped in Trinidad on their way to Brazil. The Wal-cotts took them to a beach house, and the two men got on well together. Walcott was flattered when Lowell asked him what he thought of some of Lowell’s Imitations (1961), which had recently appeared.
When, early in the following year, Robert Giroux asked Lowell to read the manuscript of Selected Poems, Lowell, in a letter dated 9 March 1963, recommended Walcott with considered enthusiasm, noting that he was already familiar with Walcott’s work, referring to their time spent together the previous summer, identifying specific strengths in Walcott’s writing, and expressing the view that he expected great things of Walcott. The two became good friends, and Walcott has acknowledged Lowell’s influence on his poetry. The friendship was disrupted for a few years, after Lowell, at the onset of one of his mental breakdowns, accused Walcott, by implication, of “using” him. However, in “On Robert Lowell” (1984, included in What The Twilight Says: Essays, 1998), a moving critique as eulogy, Walcott says that Lowell, some years later, extended a hand of reconciliation, and all was well. Walcott’s essay is also a valuable document in relation to his views on the issue of literary influence and originality, an issue that has haunted him throughout his career. Lowell is also celebrated in Walcott’s memorial poem “R.T.S.L.” (in The Star-Apple Kingdom) and in poem 32 of Midsummer (1984).
In the poetry of the 1960s, particularly in The Castaway and Other Poems and The Gulf, and Other Poems (1969), Walcott attained a sparer style of more rigorous self-scrutiny. Under the Robinson Crusoe mask, he explores conditions of alienation, separation, isolation, whether at the personal/existential level or the communal. The American gulf of race and the apocalyptic violence that it may seem inevitably to presage is one of the gulfs contemplated in the title poem of The Gulf, and Other Poems. The well-known “Laventille” paints a bleak picture of Caribbean people as shipwrecked victims of history. At the same time, Walcott’s Crusoe also represents the capacity of the isolated individual to see the world and himself clearly and in relation to his symbolic kin, Adam, the opportunity and challenge to Caribbean people to fashion a new world out of apparent nothing. One of the poems in “The Castaway and Other Poems”, “Tarpon,” won the Borestone Mountain Poetry Award for Best Poem of 1963, and the collection received the Royal Society of Literature Award for 1966.
In 1970 there occurred in Trinidad a development that shook Walcott and had a deep impact on his writing. Disgruntled sections of the proletariat and cane-field workers, led by Black Power activists and disaffected army officers, attempted the violent overthrow of the government of Prime Minister Eric Williams, who had led the country into political independence from England and had been in control ever since. The protesters and revolutionaries felt that Williams, once the icon of nationalism, “Father of the Nation,” had become too autocratic, that there was too much corruption in high places, and that the black masses were still being denied their share of the benefits of the oil-rich state.
Although the uprising was soon contained, it heightened political consciousness in the island and the region. Not surprisingly, during this period Walcott produced a clutch of his most nearly political poems, and it fed his creativity for a long while. Conscious in his own way of the causes for popular dis-gruntlement, he nonetheless felt that the revolutionary action was misguided, that it was being derailed by self-serving ideologues into a path of racist revenge. His reaction strongly colored two major essays written at this time: “What the Twilight Says: An Overture,” which formed the introduction to his first collection of plays, Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (1970), and “The Muse of History.”
His disenchanted view of the 1970 uprising is also evident in his oblique representation of it in the play In a Fine Castle, written mainly in the heat of the moment and premiered in October 1970. The Last Carnival, first produced in 1982, an appreciably rewritten and generally improved version of In a Fine Castle, does not change the view of the revolutionary side in the earlier play. A rewritten Ti-Jean and His Brothers, which played in Port of Spain in June 1970, proved to be a timely fable, entertaining and seriously didactic, about the possibility of black revolution in the West Indies against a history of white, colonial oppression. Also of particular relevance to its time was Dream on Monkey Mountain, perhaps Walcott’s best-known and most acclaimed play, which had its first Trinidadian performance in 1968, having premiered in Toronto the previous year. Through the powerfully iconic figure of its protagonist, Makak, it focused on the necessary psychological revolution that the colonized black must experience in order to free his mind from mental slavery.
In a 1977 interview with Edward Hirsch (included in Conversations with Derek Walcott, 1996), Walcott explained that the bitterly antiradical tone of “What the Twilight Says” (although he did not name the essay) must be heard in the immediate context of its time, as a response to the then-fashionable “political nostalgia” for a pastoral, idealized Africa. His poems of the 1970s that question the revolutionary “political correctness” include “The Brother,” “Vigil in the Desert” (from Sea Grapes, 1976), and the uncollected “Commune” and “A Patriot to Patriots.” At the same time, one effect of the heightened political consciousness of the late 1960s and early 1970s was no doubt to induce poems, such as “Parades, Parades,” “Party Night at the Hilton,” and “The Silent Woman” (from Sea Grapes), that criticize the political status quo and advance the idea that independence has only brought a new system of exploitation.
Despite the anxiety of the period, Walcott enjoyed major international successes. The Gulf, and Other Poems won the Cholmondeley Award for Poetry in 1970. In 1971 Dream on Monkey Mountain won an Obie Award for the most distinguished Off-Broadway production. In 1972 Walcott was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, and in 1973 the University of the West Indies conferred on him the degree of Honorary Doctor of Letters, making him the first of its graduates to be honored with a doctorate. That same year, he published the masterpiece Another Life, which received the Jock Campbell New Statesman Award in 1974.
Breaking new ground as a modern book-length autobiography in verse, which showed Walcott’s inventiveness in the crossing of genres, Another Life was a richly evocative account of his early life, up to the time when he left St. Lucia to enter the University College of the West Indies. The focus of this narrative was the influences, hereditary and environmental, that shaped the poet in him, the circumstances of his early dedication to the life of art and poetry. The bright promise and ambition of that time shine all the more radiantly against the later discontent, dramatically encapsulated in the suicide of his mentor Simmons, which is the burden of the fourth and final section of the book. On 19 February 1973, after having read Another Life at one sitting, Lowell wrote to Walcott in ecstatic praise of the book, fondly citing their friendship.
By the mid 1970s the productive contentment of Walcott’s life in Trinidad had begun to unravel. His romantic involvement with an actress and dancer in the TTW, Norline Metivier, was putting a strain on his relationship with his family. (He and Maillard ultimately divorced.) There was also dissension in the TTW. Some members took issue with Walcott’s management style and some of his decisions. There was confrontation, and Walcott resigned from the TTW in 1976. The effect of these developments on him was exacerbated by other, related considerations, such as the question of financial security and his sense of unease in the post-1970 sociopolitical climate of Trinidad and Tobago. Signals of his impending departure from Trinidad and Tobago could be heard in poems such as “Preparing for Exile” (from Sea Grapes).Shabine, the “red nigger” sailor-poet, protagonist of the popular narrative poem “The Schooner Flight” explaining his reasons for quitting Trinidad, is, among other things, a compelling mask for the Walcott of the late 1970s. “The Schooner Flight appeared in The Star-Apple Kingdom, the title poem of which also addressed the political situation of the time. Its protagonist is based roughly on Michael Man-ley, Jamaican prime minister from 1972 to 1980, and his Democratic Socialist experiment; the poem depicts the dilemma likely to befall any attempt to achieve a peaceful revolution in such circumstances as prevailed.
Given all the disquieting factors in his life at that time, Walcott began, whether purposefully or by a process of natural drift, to do more and more work in the United States, initially moving in that direction by way of the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he spent time during the late 1970s as visiting lecturer and poet- and playwright-in-residence at the College of the Virgin Islands, teaching, conducting workshops, and directing new plays of his: Remembrance (performed in 1977), Pantomime (performed in 1978), and Marie La Veau (1979). After a Guggenheim Fellowship (1977–1978), short teaching attachments at the Yale School of Drama, Columbia, and New York Universities, a Fellowship of the New York Institute for the Humanities, and a lucrative and prestigious John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1981, he accepted, early in 1982, a position as visiting professor of English at Boston University, to teach creative writing. In 1986 he was made professor of English, and he has been teaching there ever since. In 1982 he bought an apartment in Brookline, Massachusetts, and married Metivier. (This marriage, too, ended in divorce.) He had effectively relocated to the United States, although he continued to return to the Caribbean as often as he could and to have plays produced there.
Not surprisingly, the first book of poems that Walcott published after settling in America, “The Fortunate Traveller” (1981), opens with poems about adapting to the new landscape and environment, and even about Walcott’s being surprised by the thought that he is “falling in love with America” (“Upstate”). But there is also the other side, the sardonic reference to being the butt of white racist contempt (“North and South”). The theme of the black man’s “cross” in America, picking up on earlier poems such as “Blues” and “The Gulf,” found its most harrowing enactment in the title poem of “The Arkansas Testament” (1987).
The arrangement of the poems in The Fortunate Traveller into three sections titled “North,” “South,” and “North” made explicit a broad pattern of journey and return, from island South to metropolitan North and back, that had suggested itself earlier and underlies all of Walcott’s subsequent collections and book-length poems. Significantly, his representation of the North, whether Europe or the United States, is always from the point of view of the Caribbean person and the legacy of Caribbean history. “North and South” and the title poem of The Fortunate Traveller widen Walcott’s thematic scope to matters of global topicality: the socio-economic inequity of the North-South divide, and the exploitation of the Third World by the First.
Walcott’s lifelong, contested involvement with classical mythology assumes a new dimension in some of the poems of the 1980s, including “Europa,” “Greece,” and “Hurucan” (in The Fortunate Traveller), and “The Whelk Gatherers,” “White Magic,” and “Oceano Nox” (in The Arkansas Testament).These poems demystify and naturalize classical mythology, bringing it down to Caribbean earth. Walcott’s choice in Midsummer of directly addressing fellow poet Joseph Brod-sky helps focus the themes, all characteristic of Walcott, of poetry, friendship, wandering, exile, and the tyranny of dictators and totalitarian systems, which had featured in “Forest of Europe,” a poem dedicated to Brod-sky (in The Star-Apple Kingdom).
And always the poems depicting and interpreting Caribbean reality attest that, in the deepest sense, Walcott never left the Caribbean, although he agonized about having left it. For example, “The Spoiler’s Return” (from The Fortunate Traveller) has a calypso persona and style, together with satirical commentary on the Trinidadian sociopolitical scene, making it a companion piece to “The Schooner Flight.”; The fear of disconnection from home and the mixed joy and pain of reconnection, a pervasive thematic nexus in Walcott, is memorably played out in “The Light of the World” (from The Arkansas Testament), which performs an act of identity more problematic than that of the equally memorable “Sainte Lucie” of Sea Grapes.
The three new poetry collections of the 1980s– The Fortunate Traveller, Midsummer, and The Arkansas Testament–shew Walcott’s increased concern with the relationships between “word” and “world,” literature (art) and life (nature), and poetry and painting. These concerns had been strikingly engaged in Another Life.The collections also evidence Walcott’s interest in playing changes on a variety of traditional verse forms. For instance, Midsummer is a sequence of poems held loosely together by the thematic suggestions of the title, and also by sustaining the same verse form throughout: expansive lines and irregular rhymes, building within and among the poems the effect of a spreading, restless tide. The Arkansas Testament makes a sharp contrast, with its preponderance of short-line quatrains of a set rhyme pattern.
Walcott’s commitment to the discipline of verse, to rhyme and stanza in the service of intellectual rigor, found example and encouragement in the two deepest literary friendships he developed on relocating to the United States: with Brodsky and Seamus Heaney, two of the most considerable poets of his time. All three were to become Nobel laureates (Brodsky in 1987, Heaney in 1995), and all are published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. One significant circumstance they shared was that of being outsiders in America. Brodsky and Heaney have written in high praise of Walcott’s work, as he of theirs. Walcott first met Brodsky, the exiled Russian, at Lowell’s funeral in Boston in 1977. Brodsky was the living figure closest to Walcott through whom he could focus, in its most precise way, the fear of exile and the horror of totalitarian political systems, ideas that pervade his poetry. The nexus between Brodsky and these themes is a thread that runs through Midsummer, but Walcott had written “Preparing for Exile,” which invokes Osip Emil’evich Man-del’shtam, another great Russian poet who had been the victim of totalitarianism, well before he met Brodsky. Walcott first met Heaney, an Irishman, after sending him, through his editor, a review, which he found objectionable, of one of Heaney’s collections, and on which Walcott had scribbled an obscene comment. Heaney embodies for Walcott the idea of Ireland that his Caribbean imagination had from early on found so congenial–the Ireland of James Joyce and William Butler Yeats and folklore and the struggle against English colonialism.
Teaching in the United States, Walcott fell into danger of notoriety. In 1982, and again in 1996, he was accused of sexual harassment by female university students, but these incidents subsided, and his literary reputation survived. Suanne Kelman, writing in the column “Cross Current” in the Globe and Mail (Toronto) (22 October 1992), claimed that she had firsthand evidence that Walcott is “a jerk with women,” but she would not let political correctness prevent her from acknowledging him as “a towering poet.”
In 1990 Alix Walcott died, and Walcott published his monumental Omeros, the work that clinched for him the Nobel Prize. One of the most movingly lyrical moments in the poem is the poet’s valedictory portrait of his aged, frail mother (chapter 32) as he visited her not long before her death. Here she is only a shadow of the robust, determined young widow whom he had brought alive in chapter 2 of Another Life.Her death also occasioned the elegy that is the title sequence of his collection The Bounty (1997).
Omeros brought to a kind of culmination Walcott’s imaginative use of the classics, and more particularly Homer. This development was doubled in the area of drama by Walcott’s The Odyssey which premiered in 1992. Homer himself, in one guise or another, is a character in Omeros, and at one point Walcott even anticipates the reader and interrogates his obsession with the classics.
Omeros interweaves three stories. The one that carries most clearly the sense of plot and action is the story of the unlettered fishermen Achille and Hector and their quarrel over the beautiful, proud waitress and maidservant Helen. Their story resonates with echoes of Homer. There is also the story of Dennis Plunkett, retired British sergeant major turned pig farmer, and his Irish wife, living in voluntary exile on his adopted outpost of empire. The worlds of these two stories, divided by class, color, and culture, nevertheless impinge on each other, and both are balanced in the overarching consciousness of the third story–the story of the poet-narrator, a character in his own fiction. Walcott has called the poem an act of homage to St. Lucia. It is ultimately about the island and his demanding, contested love for it.
Omeros earned for Walcott the W H. Smith Award in 1991. Before that, in 1989, he had been awarded The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1986 the Institute of Jamaica awarded him its Gold Musgrave Medal, which was presented to him in 1988 when he visited Jamaica to be the keynote speaker at a conference on West Indian literature hosted by the Department of English of the University of the West Indies.
When the award of the Nobel Prize to Walcott was announced in October 1992, the news was greeted with acclaim. It had been regarded for some time by the literary cognoscenti as inevitable. There was great delight in the Anglophone Caribbean. In his acceptance speech, Walcott spoke “with pride and humility” on behalf of “the continuing struggle of Antillean writers.” In January 1993 the government of St Lucia inaugurated Nobel Laureate Week, an annual celebration in honour of Walcott and Sir Arthur Lewis. Both, by remarkable coincidence, were born on 23 January. On that date in 1993, the City Council of Castries renamed Columbus Square as Derek Walcott Square.
The success of Omeros no doubt encouraged Walcott to pursue his interest in the long narrative poem and to produce two other major variations on the genre: Tiepolo’s Hound and The Prodigal (2004). Whereas Another Life had been an autobiography that had something of the novel about it, Tiepolo’s Hound was a “novelized” biography, knowingly “inexact and blurred,” of the Caribbean-born French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. However, as with Omeros, the fiction or biography is interleaved with an autobiographical line. In The Prodigal Walcott returns to a more fully autobiographical mode and to the fiction of self.
Tiepolo ’s Hound is Walcott’s homage to painting. In Another Life he had told how, having at first thought of painting as his career, he soon realized that his true metier was poetry, and so, for all practical purposes, he gave up painting. But he never really did, and in his later years he has increasingly worked at it. When, in the mid 1990s, he built himself a house in St. Lucia with money from his Nobel Prize, he added an attractive studio, a separate structure designed to coordinate with the house. A feature of the hardcover edition of Tiepolo’s Hound is that it includes full-color reproductions of twenty-six of Walcott’s paintings, many done since he had been living in the house, and some featuring the landscape in the vicinity of the house. The paintings are in the book not as illustrations, but in their own right, interfacing with the poem.
During the years when he was based in the United States, in the 1980s and 1990s, Walcott continued to be active in drama, writing plays and having them performed, often under his own direction, in a wide geographical ambit. The plays themselves confirmed his range, covering a variety of subject matter, settings, and style. The plays that premiered in the 1980s were mostly about the Caribbean, and all but two had their premieres there: Beef, No Chicken (1981), The Isle Is Full of Koises (1982), A Branch of the Blue Kile (1983), The Haitian Earth (1984), and To Die for Grenada (1986).
Beef, No Chicken, a comedy veering to farce at times, satirizes the progress and modernization that bring to post-Independence Trinidad “McDonaldiza-tion,” concrete, and the destruction of the natural environment and traditional folkways. In contrast, A Branch of the Blue Nile is Walcott’s celebration of the theater, and especially of actors, the commitment and pain that theater exacts of them, as well as the elation and self-transcendence with which it sometimes rewards them. This play is also Walcott’s grateful but rueful summation of his years with the TTW In The Haitian Earth he addresses the political status quo of the post-Independence West Indies by presenting the leaders of the Haitian Revolution after Toussaint L’Ouverture’s exile as being driven more by desire for grandeur or power and revenge than by concern for their people.
Of the four plays that premiered after To Die For Grenada, one, Steel (1991) is also on a Caribbean subject: the human drama connected with the story of one of Trinidad’s great contributions to world music, the steel band. Two of the other plays, The Ghost Dance (1989) and Walker (1993), deal with American subjects, as did the earlier and unsuccessful musical Marie La Veau, about a legendary New Orleans conjure woman. Though venturing outside the Caribbean with The Ghost Dance and Walker, Walcott was nonetheless undertaking subjects likely to have special appeal to an imagination fraught with the Caribbean legacy of Native American genocide and African enslavement.
The Ghost Dance centers on the doomed effort of a white woman, an historical figure, Catherine Wel-don, to help the Sioux chief Sitting Bull, at a time when the United States Army was ready to find any pretext to put down the Native Americans once and for all. The Weldon story, but with focus on different aspects, had also featured in Omeros.Its presence there and in The Ghost Dance marked the high point of Walcott’s long-held, compassionate concern for the suffering of the Native Americans as a result of their encounter with the white colonizers. For instance, he had recalled the infamous Trail of Tears in more than one poem, most notably “Forest of Europe.”
Walker, first produced as an opera in 1993 and rewritten as a play with music for production in 2001, imagines the last few hours in the life of David Walker, an early-nineteenth-century African American revolutionary, who advocated violent uprising by the slaves against their masters as the necessary means of attaining their freedom. The intellectual and moral issue that the play raises is the age-old one of justification for the use of planned, bloody violence in pursuit of a just revolutionary cause.
Walcott’s long-standing aspiration toward a Broadway musical was realized when The Capeman opened in January 1998. The play is based on the true story of a sixteen-year-old Puerto Rican immigrant who, in pursuance of a gang feud, stabbed two other teenage boys to death in New York in 1959. The production was not a success and closed prematurely. Paul Simon, who composed the music, also collaborated with Walcott on the book and lyrics, and it is hardly possible to distinguish each man’s contribution to the text. Newspaper reports on the production before it opened, as well as reviews of it, treated it mainly as Simon’s work and hardly mentioned Walcott.
The Odyssey: A Stage Version, commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, was a different matter, effectively incorporating music but hardly setting out to be a musical, least of all a Broadway musical. In adapting Homer’s epic to the stage, Walcott wrote a play for his times, while staying substantially close to the substance and spirit of the original. For instance, his Cyclops becomes “Big Brother,” a prototypical dictator-tyrant. His Odysseus is all too human, a little man, not glamorous, dwarfed by Achilles’ great shield, but a tough little man and a trickster, street smart, of great heart and endurance–“a natural man,” as his swineherd, Eumaeus, admiringly labels him.
It was a kind of natural fulfillment that Walcott should have been invited, in the fullness of his career, to re-create the story of Odysseus. Almost from the outset of his writing life he had inhabited the figure of Odysseus and cast himself as the archetypal wanderer, but one always anchored to home, driven by the desire for home. In the play nothing blurs the focus on Odysseus’s determination to reach again his Ithaca and to be reunited with his wife, Penelope.
The joy of return after wandering has become an increasingly dominant subject of Walcott’s later poetry, nowhere more so than in The Prodigal, which celebrates the happiness of homecoming and its healing of the guilt of wandering. But the Prodigal’s happiness at returning is tempered by the loss of those he had left. Canto 9 includes an elegy to Walcott’s twin brother, Roderick, who died in Toronto in March 2000. His brother’s death deepens the poet’s sense of his own mortality closing in on him as he draws nearer to the city of tombstones by the sea, Choc cemetery on the outskirts of Castries, where his mother and his brother lie buried. The hymn of homecoming joy in The Prodigal reflects the poet’s return to live in St. Lucia, after some forty-five years, in his own house, on his own little plot of earth, with his partner, companion, and assistant since the late 1980s, Sigrid Nama, an American art dealer of German-Flemish origin, to whom he dedicated Tiepolo ’s Hound.
From their cliff-top patio at Becune Point, at the northern end of the island, Walcott looks down on Pigeon Island, from where the British sailed to defeat the French at the Battle of the Saints. Nearby is Gros Ilet, the village so much featured in his later poetry, and the beach where he swims every morning when he is in St. Lucia. But he still travels, going off each year to do readings, or give talks, or be involved with productions of his plays, or to teach one semester at Boston University, during which time he is based at his apartment in Greenwich Village, New York City, which he acquired after giving up his house in Brookline. In the summer of 2005 he was in Syracuse, Italy, directing a production of his Odyssey, with a text in English, Italian, and Spanish and actors from Italy, Spain, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.
When Lowell wrote to Giroux, in 1963, to recommend the manuscript of Selected Poems, he hazarded the view that, in the long run, Derek Walcott’s race and island would enhance his “strength.” Walcott’s career has proven Lowell right.
Daryl Cumber Dance, “Derek Walcott,” in his New World Adams: Conversations with Contemporary West Indian Writers (Leeds, U.K.: Peepal Tree Books, 1992), pp. 256–273;
Carrol Fleming, “Talking with Derek Walcott,” Caribbean Writer, 7 (1993): 56–61;
William Baer, ed., Conversations with Derek Walcott (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996).
Irma E. Goldstraw, Derek Walcott: An Annotated Bibliography of His Works (New York & London: Garland, 1984).
Bruce King, Derek Walcott: A Caribbean Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
Agenda, special Walcott issue, 39 (Winter 2002–2003);
Edward Baugh, Derek Walcott: Memory As Vision: “Another Life” (London: Longman, 1978);
Harold Bloom, ed., Derek Walcott (Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003);
June D. Bobb, Beating: A Restless Drum: The Poetics of Kamau Brathwaite and Derek Walcott (Trenton: Africa World Press, 1998);
Paul Breslin, Nobody’s Nation: Reading Derek Walcott (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 2001);
Stewart Brown, ed. The Art of Derek Walcott (Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan: Seren, 1991);
Paula Burnett, Derek Walcott: Politics and Poetics (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000);
Lance Russell Callahan, In the Shadow of Divine Protection: Derek Walcott’s “Omeros” (Fredericton: University of New Brunswick Press, 1999);
Callaloo, special Walcott issue, 28 (Winter 2005);
Maria Cristina Fumagalli, The Flight of the Vernacular: Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott and the Impress of Dante (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2001);
Robert D. Hamner, Derek Walcott, updated edition (New York: Twayne, 1993);
Hamner, Epic of the Dispossessed: Derek Walcott’s “Omeros” (Columbia & London: University of Missouri Press, 1997);
Hamner, ed., Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott (Boulder, Colo. & London: Lynne Rienner, 1997);
Edward Hirsch, “Derek Walcott: Either Nobody–or a Nation,” Georgia Review, 49 (Spring 1995): 307–313;
Patricia Ismond, Abandoning Dead Metaphors: The Caribbean Phase of Derek Walcott’s Poetry (Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago: University of the West Indies Press, 2001);
Bruce King, Derek Walcott and West Indian Drama (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995);
Tejumola Olaniyan, “Derek Walcott: Islands of History at a Rendezvous with the Muse,” in his Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African-American and Caribbean Drama (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 93–115;
“The Poetics of Derek Walcott: Intertextual Perspectives,” South Atlantic Quarterly, 96 (Spring 1997);
Rei Terada, Derek Walcott’s Poetry: American Mimicry (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992);
John Thieme, Derek Walcott (Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 1999);
Ned Thomas, Poet of the Islands (Welsh Arts Council, 1980);
Verse, special Walcott issue [partial], 11 (Summer 1994): 93–170.
There is a small depository of Derek Walcott’s personal papers at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad. A larger collection of manuscripts and papers is located in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto. The unpublished memoir “Another Life” is in the Library, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.