Derek Walcott

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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2016, The Columbia University Press.

Derek Walcott: Selected full-text books and articles

Nobody's Nation: Reading Derek Walcott By Paul Breslin University of Chicago Press, 2001
Abandoning Dead Metaphors: The Caribbean Phase of Derek Walcott's Poetry By Patricia Ismond University of the West Indies Press, 2001
Staging the Impossible: The Fantastic Mode in Modern Drama By Patrick D. Murphy Greenwood Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Dream on Monkey Mountain: Fantasy as Self-Perception"
Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook By Daryl Cumber Dance Greenwood Press, 1986
Librarian’s tip: "Derek Walcott (1930)" begins on p. 462
The Routledge Reader in Caribbean Literature By Alison Donnell; Sarah Lawson Welsh Routledge, 1996
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