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Walcott, Derek 1930–

Derek Walcott 1930

Poet, playwright

At a Glance

Early Interest in the Study of Literature

A New Caribbean Voice

Winning the Nobel

Selected writings

Sources

Caribbean poet Derek Walcott is the recipient of the 1992 Nobel Prize for literature, one the worlds most prestigious awards. Walcott won the prize on the strength of his many works of poetry and his plays about island life in a post-colonial era. He is the first native Caribbean writer ever to win a Nobel for literature. His poetry confronts his own mixed ethnic legacyWalcott is of African, Dutch, and English descentas well as the multi-ethnic character of the West Indies in general. In the 1981 biography Derek Walcott, Robert D. Hamner wrote: Nurtured on oral tales of gods, devils, and cunning tricksters passed down by generations of slaves, Walcott should retell folk stories; and he does. On the other hand, since he has an affinity for and is educated in Western classics, he should retell the traditional themes of European experience; and he does. As inheritor of two vitally rich cultures, he utilizes one, then the other, and finally creates out of the two his own personal style.

Walcotts central preoccupation has concerned the union between two racial and social strains that has produced the unique Caribbean culture. He has worked from the schizophrenic point of view of an islander raised to respect and appreciate the culture of an enslaving colonial force. Hamner noted that Walcott is a living example of the divided loyalties and hatreds that keep his society suspended between two worlds. Likewise, New Yorker correspondent Jervis Anderson claimed that in ancestry and cultural heritage, Walcott epitomized the composite New World culture in the Caribbeanroughly half black and half whiteand he had no desire to elevate one component above the other. The two were reconciled in his view of himself as an artist and a divided child. In one of his best-known poems, Walcott perhaps spoke for himself when he wrote: Im just a red nigger who love the sea, / I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me, / and either Im nobody, or Im a nation.

Walcott and his twin brother, Roderick, were born January 23, 1930, in Castries, a colonial town on the small eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia. At the time of Walcotts birth, St. Lucia was part of the British protectorate, but its past as a French colony was evident in the creole dialect and religious practice of its citizens. Both of Walcotts parents were schoolteachers. His father died when Walcott was only a year old, but his mother compensated for the loss by nurturing her two sons love of reading and study. She surrounded her children with English literary classics, recited Shakespeare to them, and encouraged them to appreciate poetry and drama.

At a Glance

Born Derek Alton Walcott, January 23, 1930, on Castries, St. Lucia, West Indies; immigrated to United States, late 1950s; son of Warwick (a civil servant and teacher) and Alix (a teacher) Walcott; married Fay Moston, 1954 (divorced, 1959); married Margaret Ruth Maillard, 1962 (divorced); married Norline Metivier (actress and dancer; divorced); children: one son, three daughters. Education: University of the West Indies, B.A., 1953.

Poet and playwright, 1953. Founding director of Trinidad Theatre Workshop, 1959; visiting professor at Columbia University, 1981, Harvard University, 1982, and Boston University, 1985. Has given lectures and readings at numerous colleges in the United States and abroad; fund-raiser for international center devoted to the arts and the study of economics, to be based in the Caribbean.

Selected awards: Rockefeller Foundation grant, 1957-58; Obie Award, 1971, for Dream on Monkey Mountain; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant, 1981; Nobel Prize for literature, 1992.

Addresses: Office Department of English, Creative Writing Program, Boston University, 236 Bay State Rd., Boston, MA 02215.

In those days Castries was a picturesque town with large, omate Victorian homes nestled among bright tropical gardens. Anderson noted that, as a youth, Walcott spent little time admiring the displays of affluence in the city. His attention was drawn more strongly to the shanties of the poor, in Castries and elsewhere on the island, occupied by fascinating characters, some of whom later appeared in his book-length autobiographical poem, Another, Life, Anderson commented. Beyond the sociology of the land, young Walcotts imagination was transfixed by the sea: its sounds; its fishermen and schooner men; its far horizon of limits and possibilities; the dangerous seductions of its calm and stormy moods; its record of local drownings; its legends of shipwreck and isolation. This youthful fascination with St. Lucias seafaring class would one day be translated into powerful poetry in the Homeric tradition. Walcott told the New Yorker: Islands are great places to live in because the sea is close and there is the elemental feeling of things that are bigger than you are.

Early Interest in the Study of Literature

In school, Walcott learned English as a second language and became captivated by the works of Great Britains best poets. At the same time he was well aware that England was the seat of the colonial rule that encouraged slavery during previous centuries. He therefore approached the European canon with an ambivalent attitude that would remain with himand shape his own writingsthrough the decades to come.

Walcotts growth into a free-spirited artist clashed on occasion with the islands religious establishment, and around the age of nineteen he began thinking of leaving St. Lucia, Anderson reported. Walcott rebelled against the rigid Catholicism of his homeland and sought a more congenial atmosphere for continued studies elsewhere. In 1950 he departed for the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. The institution had only been established for a few years, but already it was a virtual laboratory of regional integration, to quote Anderson. Islanders from all parts of the Caribbean descended on the University of the West Indies, and their close association helped to forge a sense of regionwide community. In the New Yorker, Walcott described Jamaica as amazingly exciting. There was good theatre, good Jamaican painters, fine galleries, gifted poets and prose writers, most of whom I came to know very well.

A New Caribbean Voice

Walcott lost little time in making his own contribution to Caribbean arts. His first play, Henri Christophe: A Chronicle, was written and produced in St. Lucia while he was still an undergraduate. Another piece, Henri Dernier, played on radio in 1950. He also began to publish poetry, art criticism, and essays in periodicals such as the Trinidad Guardian and Jamaicas Public Opinion. After earning his bachelors degree in 1953, he returned to St. Lucia to teach at St. Marys College, the high school he had attended.

By 1954 Walcott was spending substantial time in Trinidad. His plays The Sea at Dauphin and Ione premiered there in the mid-fifties, and he became deeply involved with the establishment of a resident theater project on the island. In 1957 he received a Rockefeller Foundation grant to study theater arts in New York City. There he worked with Off-Broadway directors and companies, appropriating the skills he would need to establish a repertory group in Trinidad. The New York experience was an unhappy one for Walcott, claimed Anderson. He felt terribly alone in the city, an alien in its racial and theatrical communitiesrepelled, almost, by its segregated sensibilities. Neither Broadway nor Off-Broadway seemed the right model for the kind of theatre he had envisioned for the West Indies.

Walcott returned to Trinidad and founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in the capital city of Port of Spain. The group performed some of Walcotts plays and others that explored the myths, rituals, and superstitions of West Indian folk life. The workshop eventually folded, but Walcott found an audience for his plays in New York City at the Off-Broadway Public Theatre. There, in 1971, his most famous drama, Dream on Monkey Mountain, drew enthusiastic reviews and an Obie Award as best foreign play of the year.

Poetry drew more and more of the writers energies as the 1960s began. At first he published primarily in magazines, but in 1962 his verse came to the attention of editors at the British publisher Jonathan Cape. Cape released Walcotts first major collection, In a Green Night, in 1962. The volume was well received; in fact, poet Robert Lowell was so impressed that he visited Trinidad to meet Walcott. I remember sitting on the living-room floor while Lowell showed me some of the poems he was working on, Walcott told the New Yorker. I was so flattered to hear this great writer asking me what I thought of his work. When he returned to New York, he called up Roger Straus and urged him to sign me on as a new writer. Ive been with [publisher Farrar, Straus] ever since.

Having found a congenial publisher, Walcott turned out numerous books of verse. His work was hailed for its expressive languagean old-fashioned love of eloquence, an Elizabethan richness of words and a penchant for complicated, formal rhymes, to quote New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani. Critics also commended Walcott for his brave exploration of the question of cultural ancestry. In the New York Review of Books, poet Joseph Brodsky called the Caribbean the place discovered by Columbus, colonized by the British, and immortalized by Walcott.

In the early 1970s Walcott began to spend part of the year in the United States, teaching creative writing at universities such as Columbia, Rutgers, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. Farrar, Straus published volumes of his poetry regularly, including The Gulf (1970), Another Life (1973), Sea Grapes (1976), The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979), The Fortunate Traveller (1981), Collected Poems (1986), The Arkansas Testament (1987), and Omeros (1990). In 1981 Walcott received a sizeable sum of money from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundationa no-strings-attached award that has come to be called the genius grant.

Winning the Nobel

The New Yorker reported that Walcott was in the running for a Nobel prize for years before he received it. Walcott tried not to be distracted by the politics of the prize. Look at some of the great writers who died without winning the Nobel Prize[James] Joyce, [W. H.] Auden, Graham Greene, Jorge Luis Borges, the author told the New Yorker. Why should my chances be any better than theirs?. . . It got to the point where I learned to put the whole business out of my mind. Walcott kept busy writing and teaching at Boston University, where he began holding a part-time position in 1982.

The Nobel committee announced Walcotts selection on October 8,1992. The date is doubly significant since 1992 marked the 500th anniversary of Columbuss landing in the Caribbean. From Sweden came the announcement that Walcott had been chosen for his poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by historical vision and his multi-cultural commitment. In Walcott, the committee stated, West Indian culture has found its great poet. Perhaps nowhere was the joy more visible than on St. Lucia, where the weekly newspaper in Castries devoted an entire 40-page issue to its native son.

The 1992 Nobel Prize for literature came with a cash award of $1.2 million. Its effects are far more lasting than mere dollars, however. Walcotts stature in the literary community is assured, and his opinions on everything from poetry to politics will be sought and valued. Most certainly, Walcott has earned the distinctionlong held by some critics and fellow poetsof being among the very best writers in the English language. For his own part, Walcott accepted the acclaim with humility. His work, he told the New Yorker, had already been written in the mouths of the Caribbean tribe. And I felt that I had been chosen, somehow, to give it voice. So the utterance was inevitable. I was writing it for the island people from whom I come. In a sense, I saw it as a long thank-you note. Walcotts future projects include collaborating with American folk-rocker Paul Simon on a Broadway musical.

Selected writings

Henri Christophe: A Chronicle (play), Advocate, 1950.

The Sea at Dauphin (play), University College of the West Indies, 1954.

Ione: A Play with Music, University College of the West Indies, 1957.

In a Green Night (poetry; includes A Far Cry from Africa), J. Cape, 1962.

Selected Poems, Farrar, Straus, 1964.

The Gulf (poetry), Farrar, Straus, 1970.

Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays, Farrar, Straus, 1970.

Another Life (autobiographical poetry), Farrar, Straus, 1973.

Sea Grapes (poetry), Farrar, Straus, 1976.

The Star-Apple Kingdom (poetry), Farrar, Straus, 1979.

The Fortunate Traveller (poetry), Farrar, Straus, 1981.

Collected Poems, 1948-1984, Farrar, Straus, 1986.

The Arkansas Testament (poetry), Farrar, Straus, 1987.

Omeros (poetry), Farrar, Straus, 1990.

Sources

Books

Black Literature Criticism, Gale, 1992.

Black Writers, Gale, 1989.

Hamner, Robert D., Derek Walcott, Twayne, 1981.

Periodicals

Ebony, February 1993, p. 46.

Jet, October 26,1992, p. 14; December 28,1992, p. 24.

Newsweek, October 19, 1992, p. 73.

New Yorker, June 26, 1971, p. 30; December 21, 1992, p. 71.

New York Times Magazine, May 23, 1982, p. 32.

New York Review of Books, November 10,1983, p. 39.

New York Times, March 21, 1979; August 21, 1979; May 30, 1981; May 2, 1982; January 15, 1986; December 17, 1986.

New York Times Book Review, September 13, 1964; October 11, 1970; May 6, 1973; October 31, 1976; May 13, 1979; January 3, 1982; April 8, 1984; February 2, 1986; December 20, 1987.

Time, October 19, 1992, p. 65; April 5, 1993, p. 13.

Anne Janette Johnson

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Walcott, Derek

Derek Walcott, 1930–, West Indian dramatist and poet, b. Castries, St. Lucia, grad. Univ. College of West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, 1954. His grandfathers were both white, one of English, the other of Dutch extraction; his grandmothers were both brown-skinned West Indians of African background. He has spent most of his life in various parts of the West Indies, including St. Thomas, Barbados, Grenada, and for a long period Trinidad, where he was a journalist and founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop. Walcott's meticulously honed poems and evocative dramas exalt the English language while also using a rich mix of Latin, French, and patois. Skillfully fusing folk culture and oral tradition with the classical and avant-garde, he writes eloquently of the history, landscape, everyday life, and multiracial peoples of the islands. He also examines his own African and European heritage, addressing personal conflicts, many of which arise from his mixed-race background.

Often focusing on West Indian folk traditions, Walcott's plays include Dream on Monkey Mountain (1970), The Joker of Seville (1975), Remembrance: Pantomime (1980), A Branch of the Blue Nile (1986), The Odyssey (1992), and The Capeman (1997), a musical (and Broadway flop) written with Paul Simon. Walcott has proved to be a master of lyric, narrative, and epic poetry. His verse collections include the breakthrough In a Green Night (1962), which first brought him to international attention, and the autobiographical Another Life (1973) as well as Sea Grapes (1976), Midsummer (1984), The Bounty (1997), and the intensely personal poems of old age in White Egrets (2010). His epic poem Omeros (1990) echoes and reimagines Homer's Iliad and Odyssey in the Caribbean's colonial past and complex present. Tiepolo's Hound (2001), in which he interweaves his own story with that of the St. Thomas–born painter Camille Pissarro, and The Prodigal (2004), a memoir of journey and return and a meditation on fame and death, are also book-length narrative poems. The selections in The Poetry of Derek Walcott (2014) cover six decades of his work. Walcott is also a realist painter; his cover art and illustrations have sometimes accompanied his poetry. He lives in St. Lucia and the United States, where he has taught at several universities. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.

See his Selected Poems (ed. by E. Baugh, 2007); biography by B. A. King (2000); W. Baer, Conversations with Derek Walcott (1996); studies by N. Thomas (1980), R. Terada (1992), R. D. Hamner (1981, rev. ed. 1993; as ed., 1993), B. A. King (1995), and J. L. Espejo and J. M. P. Fernández, ed. (2001).

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Walcott, Derek

Walcott, Derek (1930– ) Caribbean poet and playwright. His numerous plays include Henri Christophe (1950), Drums and Colours (1961), O Babylon (1978), and Viva Detroit (1992), but he is perhaps best known as a poet. His verse, the first volume of which was published in 1948, was collected in 1986. He received the 1992 Nobel Prize in literature.

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Walcott, Derek

Derek Walcott

BORN: 1930, Castries, Saint Lucia

NATIONALITY: West Indian

GENRE: Poems, plays

MAJOR WORKS:
Drums and Colours (1958)
In a Green Night (1962)
Another Life (1973)
The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979)
Omeros (1989)

Overview

For some forty years, Derek Walcott has been the leading poet and playwright of the West Indies. Winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, Walcott is highly regarded for poetry and plays that focus on the mixed African and European influences of his Caribbean heritage. His poetic language reflects this cultural division, employing both the formal, structured language of Elizabethan verse and the colorful dialect of his native island, St. Lucia. His plays have ranged in subject matter from adaptations of classical Greek drama to topical explorations of everyday problems. While embracing the literary tradition of England, Walcott has frequently denounced the exploitation and suppression of Caribbean culture that resulted from British colonial rule.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Divided Loyalties Derek Alton Walcott was born on January 23, 1930, on St. Lucia, a small island in the West Indies. His mother was a schoolteacher who encouraged his early education and love for reading. She was also involved in a community cultural group and got her son involved in local theater. His father, a civil servant, poet, and visual artist, died when Derek and his twin brother, Roderick, were only one year old. Walcott drew inspiration from the poems and watercolor paintings his father left behind 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.

Walcott has characterized his childhood as “schizophrenic,” referring to the divided loyalties associated with his African and English ancestry as well as the fact that he grew up in a middle-class Methodist family in a society that was predominantly Roman Catholic and poor. This sense of divided identity would become one of the main themes of Walcott's writing.

The colonial education Walcott received exposed him to the heritage of English literature, for which he displayed an affinity. He began writing poetry at an early age, often imitating such writers as W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Dylan Thomas. When he was eighteen, he financed the publication of Twenty-Five Poems (1948), his first poetry collection. While studying literature at St. Mary's College in St. Lucia and at the University of West Indies in Jamaica, he completed two more volumes of poetry and wrote Henri Christophe, a historical play written in verse. The play was staged in 1950 by the St. Lucia Arts Guild, which he had helped to found earlier in the same year. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in 1953 in English, French, and Latin.

Creating a West Indian Theater During his years in Jamaica in the 1950s, he became more locally popular, especially through the many productions of his plays, most of which he directed himself. In 1958, Walcott was commissioned to write a play for the opening of the first Federal Parliament of the West Indies. The result was Drums and Colours, a pageant that chronicles the history of the Caribbean in four episodes. Each episode centers on the story of a great historical figure: Christopher Columbus, Sir Walter Raleigh, Toussaint L'Overture, and the Jamaican nationalist George William Gordon, in chronological order.

Drums and Colors brought Walcott both critical recognition and a Rockefeller Fellowship to study theater in

the United States. He stayed less than a year, and upon his return to the Caribbean, became intensely involved in Trinidad's artistic community, writing reviews and organizing the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, where several of his plays were produced during the 1950s and 1960s.

Career Reaches New Heights Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967) is often considered Walcott's most successful play. The 1960s and the 1970s were also the period when Walcott gained international stature as a poet. In a Green Night (1962) included such soon-tobe-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 captured the West Indian's dilemma with the lines, “The gorilla wrestles with the superman. / I who am poisoned with the blood of both, / Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?” The scope of Walcott's visibility widened when the New York publisher Farrar, Straus published his Selected Poems in 1964.

Revolution and Politics In The Castaway, and Other Poems (1965), Walcott used the iconic figure of Robinson Crusoe to explore themes of alienation and isolation. The early 1970s were a time of political turmoil in the West Indies, as the socialist and “Black Power” movements confronted established governments. Walcott rejected radical platforms for social revolution, but was outspoken in his concern for the poor and his insights into the lasting legacies of colonial rule. From this period on, Walcott's political commitments became increasingly visible in his writing. He maintained a high literary output. Among his works of the 1970s are his autobiography in verse, Another Life (1973), two further volumes of poetry, Sea Grapes (1976) and The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979), and the musical play O Babylon! (1976), which concerns the Rastafarians of Jamaica. Rastafarianism is a fairly new religion that emerged in Jamaica in the 1930s; its combines Biblical teachings with the belief that Haile Selassie, the former emperor of Ethiopia, was God incarnate.

The Fortunate Traveler in the United States Derek Walcott received the lucrative and prestigious John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1981. Early in 1982, he accepted a position as visiting professor of English at Boston University. He has been teaching in American universities ever since. Although he relocated to the United States, he has continued to return to the Caribbean frequently to have plays produced there.

In the deepest sense, Walcott never left the Caribbean, even though he agonized about having left it, for his concerns remained exclusively with the legacy of Caribbean history. His poetry continues to delve into themes of division, whether in the form of inequality between rich and poor, as in “North and South” from The Fortunate Traveller (1981), or his own situation as a displaced exile, as in “Here” and “Elsewhere” from The Arkansas Testament (1987). His representation of the North, whether Europe or the United States, is always from the point of view of the Caribbean person.

Homeric Echoes Two highlights of Walcott's later career brought to a culmination his imaginative use of the classics, and more particularly, of Homer. In 1990, Walcott published his monumental Omeros. Omeros imagines West Indian fishermen, prostitutes, and landlords in such classical roles as Achilles, Helen, and Hector. It interweaves their story with its echoes of Homer, with the story of a retired British officer living in his adopted colonial home. The poet and narrator each appears as a character in his own fiction.

This achievement in poetry was doubled in the area of drama by Walcott's The Odyssey, which premiered in 1992. His epic, commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, represented a fulfillment of Walcott's career. Like Odysseus himself, determined to return to his home of Ithaca and be reunited with his wife, Penelope, the playwright has consistently written of the wanderer, driven by the desire for home. He returned to the theme once again with The Prodigal (2004), a book-length poem that celebrates the happiness of homecoming and healing of the guilt of wandering. Walcott has said this will be his final book.

Works in Literary Context

Walcott was strongly influenced by his education within the British colonial system, which immersed him in classical and English literature. Some of his earliest works represent little more than imitations of modern poets such as Joyce and Eliot. He consciously absorbed and attempted to assimilate what he once referred to in the introduction to Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (1970) as “The literature of Empires, Greek, Roman, British.” At the same time, staying true to his Caribbean roots and finding innovative ways to use language as a bridge between Afro-Caribbean and Western cultures have been the primary projects of his career.

Influence of Brecht Walcott's career in the theater illustrates this effort most vividly. His early efforts to forge a new type of West Indian theater led him to adapt traditional folk tales and incorporate such folklore elements as calypso music, carnival masks, and mime. In bringing these elements under artistic control, Walcott was aided by the influence of Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright and stage director. Brecht's theory of the “epic theater” provided the foundation for Walcott's assimilated techniques. Through Brecht, Walcott also discovered classic Asian theater and film. Akira Kurosawa's film Rashômon (1950), with its shifting perspectives on the reality of one event, is clearly a basis for Walcott's 1959 play Malcauchon.

Friends and Collaborators Walcott met and befriended the American poet Robert Lowell in Trinidad in 1962, not long after the publication of In a Green Night. Lowell enthusiastically praised Walcott's work, and Walcott has acknowledged Lowell's influence on his poetry. Walcott's commitment to the discipline of verse found encouragement in two literary friendships he developed on relocating to the United States: with Joseph 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 three were published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Additionally, the three men were all outsiders in the United States: Brodsky was an exiled Russian, and Heaney an Irish expatriate. The three poets collaborated on a book, published in 1996, celebrating the work of American poet Robert Frost.

Regional and Worldwide Influence Derek Walcott's artistic influence in the Caribbean is towering. He is a revered figure on his native islands. No writer has done more to fuse the Caribbean and European cultural traditions, while exploring the many tensions between them. His literary success has encouraged many younger Caribbean artists, many of whom have also spent time in the United States or the United Kingdom. The success of his Trinidad Theatre Workshop has inspired new companies throughout the West Indies.

More broadly, Walcott has become a prominent voice in what has come to be called postcolonial literature, linking his work thematically with that of African and Asian authors. His international acclaim affirms the importance of small places, showing that writers from the outposts of world power who focus on the concerns of their place and people need not be dismissed as too regional or parochial.

Works in Critical Context

Even before receiving the Nobel Prize, Walcott enjoyed an international reputation placing him among the greatest of contemporary English writers. Although many of his plays are highly regarded, the strength of his reputation rests primarily on his lyric poetry. Throughout his career, though, he has had to contend with the charge that he is so deeply influenced by Western tradition that he has yet to achieve his own voice. Beginning in the 1960s with Walcott's first books, there were reservations about the artificiality of a West Indian using such “eloquent English.” Some critics have charged that Walcott's written expression is so refined and technically intricate that it can obscure or overshadow his meaning. Such criticism arises in part from his efforts, some more successful than others, to blend Afro-Caribbean folk styles and classical European poetics. Over time, these critical voices have diminished somewhat, as his accomplishments are more widely recognized. Walcott offered a unique voice reflecting the cultural matrix of the New World.

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Walcott's famous contemporaries include:

Chinua Achebe (1930–): Nigerian author and poet famous for his novel Things Fall Apart (1958), which is seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English.

George Lamming (1927–): Novelist and essayist born in Barbados, who led a Caribbean renaissance in England.

Seamus Heaney (1939–): Irish poet and Nobel laureate.

Athol Fugard (1932–): South African playwright.

Michael Manley (1924–1997): Served eleven years as prime minister of Jamaica.

Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967) The play Dream on Monkey Mountain was one of Walcott's first to receive international recognition from established critics. W. I. Scobie, writing for the National Review, called it “a superb play,” as well as “a work of intense verbal and visual beauty, and visionary insight.” Edith Oliver, reviewing the play for The New Yorker, states, “Every line of it plays; there are no verbal decorations.”

Another Life (1973) Walcott's long autobiographical poem Another Life divided many critics. “Another Life should make it clear,” according to Roger Garfitt of London Magazine, “if it was ever in doubt, that Derek Walcott's superlative descriptions are far more than description, that they are the only feasible expression of his situation.” Paul Smyth, in a review for Poetry, states, “It is a restless mixture of lyric and narrative, of the local and the European, of the evocative and the didactic; ultimately, its elements don't cohere or reconcile …” However, Smyth does recommend the book: “I urge everyone who cares for the wonders of fresh metaphor in the service of deep thought and feeling to sift Another Life for its triumphs.” T. O'Hara offers a different opinion in Best Sellers, arguing that the poetry is too showy: “I was fascinated by his ingenuity but somewhat put off by the dazzling images and diction. The attention is violated in poetry like this rather than held as it should be.” O'Hara asserts that the book “suffers from a metaphor glut,” and though the critic “[does not] doubt for a moment Mr. Walcott's abilities,” his conclusion is that the book “doesn't work as a long poem.”

Responses to Literature

  1. Consider the use Walcott makes of classical references in Omeros. How is he asserting a connection between the heritage of ancient Greece and the present-day culture of the West Indies? Can you provide some specific examples from the text itself?
  2. Do some research on the history of St. Lucia, the island nation where Derek Walcott was born. What light does this history shed on the multiple cultural traditions informing Walcott's literature?
  3. Familiarize yourself with Bertolt Brecht's theory of dramaturgy, or stage direction. Which of his ideas do you think helped Derek Walcott integrate West Indian folklore with European traditions in the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, how were they used by Walcott and why were they successful?

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Derek Walcott's poetry and plays are often categorized as postcolonial in their focus on the legacies of slavery and imperialism and the complications of clashing cultural inheritance. Here are some other important works in the postcolonial genre:

Midnight's Children (1980), a novel by Salman Rushdie. At the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, as India becomes an independent nation, two newborn infants—one from a wealthy Muslim family, one from a poor Hindu family—are switched.

In a Free State (1971), a novel by V. S. Naipaul. In these stories set in sub-Saharan Africa, the third world is a “free state” in which the characters can find nothing to belong to.

In the Skin of a Lion (1987), a novel by Michael Ondaatje. A fictional account of immigrants whose labor helped build the city of Toronto, several characters from this novel continue in the author's more widely known novel The English Patient.

Orientalism (1978), a nonfiction work by Edward Said. In this founding text of postcolonial studies, the author reveals the subtly demeaning codes Westerners use to discuss Arabs, Islam, and the Middle East.

The Shock of Arrival: Reflections on Postcolonial Experience (1996), a collection by Meena Alexander. This collection of poems and essays follows the author from her childhood in India and the Sudan to her present home in New York City.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Bloom, Harold, ed. Derek Walcott. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Breslin, Paul. Nobody's Nation: Reading Derek Walcott. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

“Derek Walcott (1930–).”Contemporary Literary Criticism. Edited by Carolyn Riley. Vol. 4. Detroit: Gale Research, 1975, pp. 574–576.

“Derek Walcott (1930–).” Contemporary LiteraryCriticism. Edited by Carolyn Riley and Barbara Harte. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale Research, 1974, pp. 459–460.

Hamner, Robert D. Derek Walcott. Boston: Twayne, 1981

———. Epic of the Dispossessed: Derek Walcott's Omeros. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997.

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

———. Derek Walcott: A Caribbean Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Olaniyan, Tejumola. Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African-American, and Caribbean Drama. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Parker, Michael, and Roger Starkey. Postcolonial Literatures: Achebe, Ngugi, Desai, Walcott. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

Terada, Rei. Derek Walcott's Poetry: American Mimicry. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992.

Thomas, Ned. Poet of the Islands. Cardiff, Wales: Welsh Arts Council, 1980.

Periodicals

Agenda (Winter 2002–2003): 39.

Callaloo 28 (Winter 2005).

Verse 11 (Summer 1994): 93–170.

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