Sir Derek Alton Walcott, KCSL, OBE, OCC Nobel Laureate in Literature
Derek Alton Walcott, KCSL, OBE OCC was a Saint Lucian poet and playwright. He received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is currently Professor of poetry at the University of Essex. His works include the Homeric epic poem, Omeros (1990), which many critics view "as Walcott's major achievement." In addition to having won the Nobel, Walcott has won many literary awards over the course of his career including an Obie Award in 1971 for his play Dream on Monkey Mountain, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, the Queen's Medal for Poetry, and the 2011 T. S. Eliot Prize for his book of poetry, White Egrets.
He received the Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC) during the first conferment in 1992.
Walcott was born and raised in Castries, Saint Lucia, in the West Indies with a twin brother, the future playwright Roderick Walcott, and a sister, Pamela Walcott. His family is of African and European descent, reflecting the complex colonial history of the island which he explores in his poetry. His mother, a teacher, loved the arts and often recited poetry around the house. His father, who painted and wrote poetry, died at age 31 from mastoiditis while his wife was pregnant with the twins Derek and Roderick, who were born after his death. Walcott's family was part of a minority Methodist community, who felt overshadowed by the dominant Catholic culture of the island established during French colonial rule.
As a young man Walcott trained as a painter, mentored by Harold Simmons, whose life as a professional artist provided an inspiring example for him. Walcott greatly admired Cézanne and Giorgione and sought to learn from them.
Walcott studied as a writer, becoming “an elated, exuberant poet madly in love with English” and strongly influenced by modernist poets such as T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. He had an early sense of a vocation as a writer. In the poem "Midsummer" (1984), he wrote:
"Forty years gone, in my island childhood, I felt that
the gift of poetry had made me one of the chosen,
that all experience was kindling to the fire of the Muse.
At 14, Walcott published his first poem, a Miltonic, religious poem in the newspaper, The Voice of St Lucia. An English Catholic priest condemned the Methodist-inspired poem as blasphemous in a response printed in the newspaper. By 19, Walcott had self-published his two first collections with the aid of his mother, who paid for the printing: 25 Poems (1948) and Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos (1949). He sold copies to his friends and covered the costs. He later commented,
"I went to my mother and said, 'I’d like to publish a book of poems, and I think it’s going to cost me two hundred dollars.' She was just a seamstress and a schoolteacher, and I remember her being very upset because she wanted to do it. Somehow she got it—a lot of money for a woman to have found on her salary. She gave it to me, and I sent off to Trinidad and had the book printed. When the books came back I would sell them to friends. I made the money back."
The influential Bajan poet Frank Collymore critically supported Walcott's early work.
With a scholarship, he studied at the University College of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. After graduation, Walcott moved to Trinidad in 1953, where he became a critic, teacher and journalist. Walcott founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1959 and remains active with its Board of Directors.
Exploring the Caribbean and its history in a colonialist and post-colonialist context, his collection In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960 (1962) attracted international attention. His play Dream on Monkey Mountain (1970) was produced on NBC-TV in the United States the year it was published. In 1971 it was produced by the Negro Ensemble Company off-Broadway in New York City; it won an Obie Award that year for "Best Foreign Play". The following year, Walcott won an OBE from the British government for his work.
He was hired as a teacher by Boston University in the United States, where he founded the Boston Playwrights' Theatre in 1981. That year he also received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in the United States. Walcott taught literature and writing at Boston University for more than two decades, publishing new books of poetry and plays on a regular basis and retiring in 2007. He became friends with other poets, including the Russian Joseph Brodsky, who lived and worked in the US after being exiled in the 1970s, and the Irish Seamus Heaney, who also taught in Boston.
His epic poem, Omeros (1990), which loosely echoes and references characters from The Iliad, has been critically praised "as Walcott's major achievement." The book received praise from publications like The Washington Post and The New York Times Book Review which chose the book as one of its "Best Books of 1990."
Walcott was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992, the first Caribbean writer to receive the honor. The Nobel committee described his work as “a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment.”
His later poetry collections include Tiepolo’s Hound (2000), illustrated with copies of his watercolors; The Prodigal (2004), and White Egrets (2010), which received the T.S. Eliot Prize.
In 2009, Walcott began a three-year distinguished scholar-in-residence position at the University of Alberta. In 2010, he became Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex.
In 2009, Walcott was a leading candidate for the position of Oxford Professor of Poetry. He withdrew his candidacy after reports of documented accusations against him of sexual harassment from 1981 and 1996. (The latter case was settled by Boston University out of court. When the media learned that pages from an American book on the topic were sent anonymously to a number of Oxford academics, their interest was further aroused in the university decisions.
Ruth Padel, also a leading candidate, was elected to the post. Within days, The Daily Telegraph reported that she had alerted journalists to the harassment cases. Under severe media and academic pressure, Padel resigned. Padel was the first woman to be elected to the Oxford post, and journalists including Libby Purves, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, the American Macy Halford and the Canadian Suzanne Gardner attributed the criticism of her to misogyny and a gender war at Oxford. They said that a male poet would not have been so criticized, as she had reported published information, not rumor.
Numerous respected poets, including Seamus Heaney and Al Alvarez, published a letter of support for Walcott in The Times Literary Supplement, and criticized the press furore. Other commentators suggested that both poets were casualties of the media interest in an internal university affair, because the story "had everything, from sex claims to allegations of character assassination". Simon Armitage and other poets expressed regret at Padel's resignation.
Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos, Barbados Advocate (Bridgetown, Barbados), 1949.
Poems, Kingston City Printery (Kingston, Jamaica), 1953.
In a Green Night: Poems, J. Cape (London, England), 1962, published as In a Green Night: Poems, 1948-1960, J. Cape (London, England), 1969.
Selected Poems, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1964.
The Castaway, J. Cape (London, England), 1965.
The Gulf and Other Poems, J. Cape (London, England), 1969, published with selections from The Castaway as The Gulf: Poems, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1970.
Another Life (long poem), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1973, 2nd edition published with introduction, chronology and selected bibliography by Robert D. Hammer, Three Continents Press (Washington, DC), 1982.
Tiepolo's Hound, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.
The Prodigal (book-length poem), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2004.
Selected Poems, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2007.
White Egrets, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2010.
Contributor of poems to numerous periodicals, including New Statesman,London Magazine,Encounter,Evergreen Review,Caribbean Quarterly,Tamarack Review, and Bim.
Cry for a Leader, produced in St. Lucia, 1950.
Senza Alcum Sospetto (radio play), broadcast 1950, produced as Paolo and Francesca, in St. Lucia, 1951.
(And director) Henri Christophe: A Chronicle in Seven Scenes (first produced in Castries, West Indies, 1950; produced in London, England, 1952), Barbados Advocate (Bridgetown, Barbados), 1950.
Robin and Andrea, published in Bim (Christ Church, Barados), 1950.
Three Assassins, produced in St. Lucia, West Indies, 1951.
The Price of Mercy, produced in St. Lucia, West Indies, 1951.
(And director) Harry Dernier: A Play for Radio Production (produced in Mona, Jamaica, 1952; radio play broadcast as Dernier, 1952), Barbados Advocate (Bridgetown, Barbados), 1952.
(And director) The Wine of the Country (produced in Mona, Jamaica, 1956), University College of the West Indies (Mona, Jamaica), 1953.
The Sea at Dauphin: A Play in One Act (first produced in Mona, Jamaica, 1953; produced in Trinidad, 1954, London, England, 1960, New York, NY, 1978), Extra-Mural Department, University College of the West Indies (Mona, Jamaica), 1954, also included in Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (also see below).
Crossroads, produced in Jamaica, 1954.
(And director) The Charlatan, Walcott directed first production in Mona, Jamaica, 1954; revised version with music by Fred Hope and Rupert Dennison produced in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 1973; revised version with music by Galt MacDermot produced in Los Angeles, 1974; revised version produced in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 1977.
Ione: A Play with Music (first produced in Kingston, 1957), Extra-Mural Department, University College of the West Indies (Mona, Jamaica), 1957.
Drums and Colours: An Epic Drama (first produced in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 1958), published in Caribbean Quarterly, March-June, 1961.
(And director) Ti-Jean and His Brothers (first produced in Castries, St. Lucia, 1957; Walcott directed a revised version produced in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 1958; produced in Hanover, NH, 1971; Walcott directed a production Off-Broadway at Delacorte Theatre, 1972; produced in London, 1986), included in Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays(also see below).
Malcauchon; or, The Six in the Rain (sometimes "Malcauchon" transliterated as "Malcochon"; one-act; first produced as Malcauchon in Castries, St. Lucia, 1959; produced as Six in the Rain, in London, England, 1960; produced Off-Broadway at St. Mark's Playhouse, 1969), Extra-Mural Department, University of West Indies (Port-of-Spain, Trinidad), 1966, also included in Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (also see below).
Jourmard; or, A Comedy till the Last Minute, first produced in St. Lucia, 1959; produced in New York, NY, 1962.
(And director) Batai (carnival show), produced in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 1965.
(And director) Dream on Monkey Mountain (first produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1967; produced in Waterford, CT, 1969; and Off-Broadway at St. Mark's Playhouse, 1970), included in Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (also see below).
(And director) Franklin: A Tale of the Islands, first produced in Georgetown, Guyana, 1969; Walcott directed a revised version produced in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 1973.
Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (contains Dream on Monkey Mountain,The Sea at Dauphin,Malcauchon; or, The Six in the Rain,Ti-Jean and His Brothers, and the essay "What the Twilight Says: An Overture"), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1970.
(And director) In a Fine Castle, (Walcott directed first production in Mona, Jamaica, 1970; produced in Los Angeles, CA, 1972), excerpt as Conscience of a Revolution published in Express (Port-of-Spain, Trinidad), October 24, 1971.
The Joker of Seville (musical; music by Galt MacDermot; adaptation of the play by Tirso de Molina; first produced in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 1974), included in The Joker of Seville and O Babylon!: Two Plays (also see below).
(And director) O Babylon! (music by Galt MacDermot; Walcott directed first production in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 1976; produced in London, England, 1988), included in The Joker of Seville and O Babylon!: Two Plays (also see below).
(And director) Remembrance (three-act; Walcott directed first production in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, December, 1977; produced Off-Broadway at The Other Stage, 1979 ; and London, England, 1980), included in Remembrance & Pantomime: Two Plays (also see below).
The Snow Queen (television play), excerpt published in People(Port-of-Spain, Trinidad), April, 1977.
Pantomime (first produced in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 1978; produced London, England, 1979, Washington, DC, 1981, and Off-Broadway at the Hudson Guild Theater, 1986), included in Remembrance & Pantomime: Two Plays (also see below).
The Joker of Seville and O Babylon!: Two Plays, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1978.
(And director) Marie Laveau (music by Galt MacDermot; first produced in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, 1979), excerpts published in Trinidad and Tobago Review (Tunapuna), 1979.
Remembrance & Pantomime: Two Plays, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1980.
Beef, No Chicken (Walcott directed first production in New Haven, CT, 1982; produced in London, England, 1989), included in Three Plays (also see below).
The Isle Is Full of Noises, first produced at the John W. Huntington Theater, Hartford, CT, 1982.
Three Plays (contains The Last Carnival,Beef, No Chicken, and A Branch of the Blue Nile), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1986.
Steel, first produced at the American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, MA, 1991.
The Odyssey: A Stage Version, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Paul Simon) The Capeman: A Musical (produced on Broadway at the Marquis Theater, December, 1997), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.
The Haitian Trilogy, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2002.
Also author of the play To Die for Grenada.
Henri Christophe: A Chronicle in Seven Scenes, Barbados Advocate (Bridgetown, Barbados), 1950.
Another Life: Fully Annotated, Lynne Rienner Publishers (Boulder, CO), reprinted with a critical essay and comprehensive notes by Edward Baugh and Colbert Nepaulsingh, 2004.
The Poet in the Theatre, Poetry Book Society (London, England), 1990.
The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory: The Nobel Lecture, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1993.
Conversations with Derek Walcott, edited by William Baer, University of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1996.
(With Joseph Brodsky and Seamus Heaney) Homage to Robert Frost, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.
What the Twilight Says (essays), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.
Walker and Ghost Dance, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.
John Figueroa, editor, Caribbean Voices, Evans (London, England), 1966.
Barbara Howes, editor, From the Green Antilles, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1966.
Howard Sergeant, editor, Commonwealth Poems of Today, Murray (London, England), 1967.
O. R. Dathorne, editor, Caribbean Verse, Heinemann (London, England), 1968.
Anne Walmsley, compiler, The Sun's Eye: West Indian Writing for Young Readers, Longmans, Green (London, England) 1968.
Orde Coombs, editor, Is Massa Day Dead?, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1974.
D. J. Enright, editor, Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse, 1945-1980, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1980.
Errol Hill, editor, Plays for Today, Longman (London, England), 1985.
(Author of introduction) George Plimpton, editor, Latin American Writers at Work, Modern Library (New York, NY), 2003.
Also contributor to Caribbean Literature, edited by George Robert Coulthard; New Voices of the Commonwealth, edited by Howard Sergeant; and Young Commonwealth Poetry, edited by Peter Ludwig Brent. Some of Walcott's personal papers are housed at the University of the West Indies in Saint Augustine, Trinidad.
Honours and awards
In addition to having won the Nobel, Walcott has won many literary awards over the course of his career:
1969 Cholmondeley Award
1971 Obie Award for Best Foreign Play (for Dream on Monkey Mountain)
1972 Officer of the Order of the British Empire
1981 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship ("genius award")
1988 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry
1990 Arts Council of Wales International Writers Prize
1990 W. H. Smith Literary Award (for poetry Omeros)
1992 Nobel Prize in Literature
1992 Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC) award
2008 Honorary doctorate from the University of Essex
2011 T. S. Eliot Prize (for poetry collection White Egrets)
2011 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (for White Egrets)
2015 Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry Lifetime Recognition Award
On 22 February 2016, Walcott was awarded the Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Lucia for exceptional and outstanding service of national importance to Saint Lucia.
In 1954 Walcott married Fay Moston, a secretary, with whom he had a son, Paul, but the marriage ended in divorce two years later. Walcott married a second time to Margaret Maillard, who worked as an almoner in a hospital, and together they had two daughters - Eizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw and Anna Walcott-Hardy - hey divorced in the mid-1970s. In 1976, Walcott married for a third time, to Norline Metivier, but this marriage also did not last.
Walcott died at his home in Saint Lucia on 17 March 2017. He was 87.
Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott
Derek Walcott receiving the 1992 Nobel Prize for Literature from King Carl Gustav of Sweden. Photograph: taken from picture library
Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott
Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott
Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott on his life and work
Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott on Empire and Language
Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott reads his poem 'Sea Grapes' from "Collected Poems 1948-1984".
Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott : Black Writers Series
Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott UCSD Convocation 2007
Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott Desert Island Discs BBC Interview 1991
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