Walcott, Derek

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

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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