Derek Walcott

first_imgDerek Walcott, the great St Lucian and West Indian poet, died a week ago on March 17 and the media of the English-speaking world carried touching tributes to a unique poet and playwright. In Guyana, not much, as was expected, was said although Walcott was known and remembered by many Guyanese.Walcott was born in 1930 at Castries, St Lucia and raised there. His mother was a headmistress at the local school and his father was, among other things, an amateur water-colourist, who died at the age of 31 before Walcott was born. He was raised by his loving mother, who made every sacrifice to ensure that her son received a good education. She recognised Walcott’s talent as a poet and at 14, he published his first poem and financed his self-published book of 25 poems, which he published four years later. During these early years of his poetic life, he painted and became a good amateur painter.He got a scholarship to the newly-established University College of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica where he read English, French and Latin. He graduated in 1953 and settled in Trinidad for several years, teaching and being involved in cultural work. His great talent as a poet and writer became widely recognised, and he received an award to study in the USA. He joined the academic staff of Boston University and taught there for 20 years until he retired in 2007. During his stay at Boston University, he published regularly and his great work “Omeros” was published in 1990.Walcott’s output of poetry, plays and essays was among the greatest produced by any West Indian writer and he won many prestigious awards and prizes during his long career.His greatest work “Omeros” for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature captures the essence of the Caribbean and was a re-setting of Homer in St Lucia. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Walcott also won the MacArthur Foundation “genius” award (1981); the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry (1988); the WH Smith Literary Award for Omeros (1990); the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement (2004); the TS Eliot Prize (2011) for his book of poetry “White Egrets”; and the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry Recognition Award in 2015, among several others.He was the essential West Indian and though he spent so many years in North America and Europe, he always came back to St Lucia, which was home to him. He always claimed his identity was West Indian and in his personality, he expressed his West Indianness. Though he was aware of the many currents and cross-currents of race, religion and culture in the Caribbean, he rose above them and in one way or another, utilised them in his art.As was stated by the Secretary General of Caricom, to the Caribbean Community, Walcott was a true cultural icon, a gift from Saint Lucia to the Region and the world. He embraced the entire Caribbean as his own. His lyrical poetry and penetrative plays resounded with the rhythm and spirit of the Caribbean civilisation. And certainly, he epitomises the possibilities and brilliance of a true Caribbean man.We salute this distinguished son of our Region, whose presence in our midst will be greatly missed.last_img

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