Walcott, Derek (1930–)

views updated

Walcott, Derek (1930–)

Derek Walcott (b. January 23, 1930) is a West Indian poet, playwright, and painter from St. Lucia in the Lesser Antilles. Walcott's poetic expression of the Caribbean experience earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1992. The Swedish Academy cited Walcott, the first Caribbean writer to win this prestigious award, for the historical vision of his Homeric endeavor, Omeros (1990). The Odyssey-inspired sixty-four-chapter poem retells the epic, casting Creole-speaking characters in a Caribbean landscape. Walcott's artistic efforts question the place of history and the role of the artist in postcolonial society. His creolization of Eurocentric themes and forms make him a self-proclaimed "mulatto of style" and, possibly, the English language's greatest living poet.

Walcott was born in Castries, St. Lucia, and his ancestry reflects the ethnic and cultural inheritance of his island. He claims Dutch, French, and African blood and speaks English, French, and Creole. His father, a civil servant and watercolorist, died when Walcott and his twin brother were toddlers. The boys were raised, along with a sister, by their mother, a Methodist schoolteacher. Walcott spent his childhood among artistically inclined, intellectual people and acknowledges the influence of this community on his development.

Whereas other Caribbean intellectuals and artists sought education, inspiration, and opportunity in England, Walcott spent his formative years in the Caribbean—an experience that undoubtedly solidified his lifelong artistic and personal commitment to the region. He attended St. Mary's College in St. Lucia and in 1953 graduated from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. During this time he began what he considers an artistic apprenticeship—experimenting with form in poetry and language in drama and imitating great visual artists in painting. His first works, 25 Poems (1948), Epitaph for the Young (1949), and Poems (1951), were locally published as booklets. Even this early work reflects the breadth of Walcott's cultural references and his claims to the great traditions to which his ancestry and upbringing entitled him.

In 1950 he started the St. Lucia Arts Guild, which debuted his early plays, including Henri-Christophe (1950). He founded the repertory company named Little Carib Theatre Workshop in Trinidad in 1961. It became the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1966 and enjoyed moderate success performing in the Caribbean and North America. His early dramatic works, such as Ti-Jean and His Brothers (1958) and Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967), animate the local landscape and its folk culture to portray a culturally decolonized Caribbean.

The publication of In a Green Night (1962) brought Walcott recognition as a poet. The expansive and successful poetic oeuvre that followed developed his romance with Caribbean landscapes and seascapes while invoking history and its great men. He situates his own West Indian subjectivity among such figures as a New World Adam, Robinson Crusoe, Toussaint L'Ouverture, and the Old Master painters. Walcott's extensive travels outside the region increasingly informed his poetry, as suggested by The Fortunate Traveller (1981) and Midsummer (1984). Walcott's work earned him acclaim in international literary circles; however, his dramatic and poetic posturing as the inheritor of all great traditions was unfashionable among the decidedly anti-colonial impulses of his Caribbean contemporaries.

From the early 1980s, Walcott taught poetry, creative writing, and drama at Boston University while dividing his time between Trinidad and the United States. His most recent and self-stated final book, The Prodigal (2004), is a culmination of the themes, images, and art that have characterized his career.

See alsoLiterature: Spanish America .


Poetry Collections by Walcott

In a Green Night: Poems 1948–60. London: Cape, 1962.

The Castaway and Other Poems. London: Cape, 1965.

The Gulf and Other Poems. London: Cape, 1969.

Another Life. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux; London, Cape, 1973.

Sea Grapes. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux; London, Cape, 1976.

The Star-Apple Kingdom. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux 1979.

Omeros. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1990.

The Bounty. New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1997.

Tiepolo's Hound. New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2000.

The Prodigal. New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2004.

Plays by Walcott

Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1970. Also contains The Sea at Dauphin; Ti-Jean and His Brothers; Malcochon, or The Six in the Rain.

The Joker of Seville & O Babylon! New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1978.

The Haitian Trilogy. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2002. Contains: Henri Christophe; The Haitian Earth; Drums and Colours.

The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory: The Nobel Lecture. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1993.

What the Twilight Says: Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1998.

Secondary Sources

Baugh, Edward, Derek Walcott. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Bobb, June D. Beating a Restless Drum: The Poetics of Kamau Brathwaite and Derek Walcott. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1998.

Brown, Stewart, ed. The Art of Derek Walcott. Bridgend, UK: Seren Books, 1991.

Burnett, Paula. Derek Walcott: Politics and Poetics. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

Hamner, Robert D. Derek Walcott, rev. edition. New York: Twayne, 1993.

Handley, George B. New World Poetics: Nature and the Adamic Imagination of Whitman, Neruda, and Walcott. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007.

King, Bruce, Derek Walcott and West Indian Drama. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.

Nobelprize.org. "Derek Walcott." Available from http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1992/walcott-bio.html.

                                            Lara Cahill