Introducing: Derek Walcott

Ebony, February 1993 | Go to article overview
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Introducing: Derek Walcott

Black Poet Wins Literature Prize For Writings Evoking Caribbean Life

WHEN rumors swirled two years ago that West Indian poet Derek Walcott was certain to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, premature celebrants began popping corks on champagne bottles. The rumors were unfounded, but they added to Walcott's stature as a master poet whose works elicit the cultural diversity and the rhythmic cadences of his native Caribbean.

"Two years ago it was very difficult because people were saying I had won and it wasn't true," Walcott says in a lilting West Indian accent. "So, last year, I tried to put it out of my mind as much as possible. But, of course, as the time of the announcement drew near, I thought about it from time to time."

And so, when Walcott was awakened by a ringing telephone in his Brookline, Mass., home last October and heard a strange voice belonging to the secretary of Swedish Academy of Letters telling him that he had been awarded the coveted prize that carries with it a cash award of $985,000, he was overcome with feelings of relief and joy.

Walcott, who has lived in the United States since the late 1950s, divides his time between Boston University, where he teaches literature and creative writing, and Trinidad, his adopted home.

The Swedish Academy cited the 62-year-old native of St. Lucia, West Indies, for his "melodious and sensitive" style. "In his literary works, Walcott has laid a course for his own cultural environment, but through them, he speaks to each and every one of us," the citation reads. "In him, West Indian culture has found its great poet."

With the designation, Walcott becomes the first Black writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. His selection is being applauded by both Black and White members of the literati. Novelist Jamaica Kincaid, a native of Antigua, West Indies, says the historical importance of West Indians has finally been acknowledged. And exiled Soviet poet Joseph Brodsky, winner of the 1987 Nobel, who once complained that Walcott had been relegated to a regional status because of "an unwillingness to admit that the great poet of the English language is a Black man," has reason to cheer.

Walcott is deeply influenced by his experience of growing up on the isolated volcanic island in the Lesser Antilles.

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