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Derek Walcott

Saint Lucia’s Nobel Laureate and Literary Giant – Poet and Playwright

Born: 23 January 1930 in Castries, Saint Lucia
Died: 17 March 2017 in Cap Estate, Gros-Islet, Saint Lucia at the age of 87
Occupation: Poet, playwright, professor

Derek Walcott, the renowned Saint Lucian poet and playwright, was a towering figure in world literature. Walcott left an indelible mark on Caribbean culture and the global literary landscape.

Walcott’s life and work were deeply intertwined with his beloved island home. He once described himself as a “red nigger who love the sea” with “Dutch, nigger and English” in him, reflecting Saint Lucia’s complex colonial history. His mother, Alix, was a teacher of English, while his father, a civil servant who painted and wrote poetry, died when Derek and his twin brother were just one year old.

Walcott’s early education at a Methodist school provided him with a “sound colonial education” that prepared him for a three-year course at the University College of the West Indies in Jamaica. He later won a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship to study theatre in New York in 1957.

Walcott’s literary career spanned poetry, plays, and essays. He authored 17 books of poetry, 30 plays, and countless essays. His epic poem “Omeros“, which retold the dramas of Homer’s “Iliad and Odyssey” in a 20th-century Caribbean setting, earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992. The Nobel committee praised him as the “Caribbean Homer“.

Walcott’s poetry and plays captured the essence of Caribbean life, exploring themes of post-colonial tensions, the brutality and sensuality of the landscape, and the peculiarities of island culture. His work was deeply influenced by the natural beauty of Saint Lucia, which he lovingly portrayed in collections like “The Bounty“.

Despite his global fame, Walcott remained deeply connected to Saint Lucia. He kept a home on the island and returned often, celebrating his birthday each January with a week of poetry readings, play recitations, and a “Nobel Speech“. Walcott’s friends and former students from around the world would gather to honour him, taking boat trips down the coast and swimming in the Caribbean Sea.

Walcott’s impact extended far beyond Saint Lucia. He taught at Boston University for many years, mentoring countless writers and poets. His work was celebrated by fellow Nobel Laureates like Wole Soyinka, who praised Walcott’s “great feel for nature and history” and his ability to situate his island tapestry within a global context.

Derek Walcott passed away on March 17, 2017 at the age of 87. He was accorded a state funeral in Saint Lucia, where he remains revered as one of the greatest poets and playwrights of the 20th century. Along with economist Sir Arthur Lewis, Walcott stands as one of Saint Lucia’s most celebrated sons, a literary giant who immortalised his Caribbean homeland on the world stage.



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