CARICOM celebrates the birth anniversary of Sir Derek Walcott

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The official Twitter handle of CARICOM released a post celebrating the birth anniversary of Sir Derek Walcott, a Nobel Laureate in Literature (1992), who was also awarded an OBE (’72), OCC (’92) & Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Lucia (‘93).
Sir Derek Walcott was a Saint Lucian poet and playwright born in 1930, who passed away on the 17th of March, 2017, at the age of 87.

Walcott was known best for penning Omeros, a Homeric poem of epic proportions. His work has been described by the Nobel committee as “a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment.”

He has been appreciated by critics and fans alike, for his innate ability to use his experiences as a Caribbean writer, to intermesh his writings with universal themes which connected with readers all over the world.

As a playwright and theatre company director, Walcott had the ability to bring Shakespearean elements together with his Caribbean roots and often spoke of the role that conviction plays in depicting the vision of an artist.

In his most popular work, the epic poem Omeros, Walcott drew from ancient epics such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, combining it with life in the West Indies. What set the poem apart was the fact that Sir Derek Walcott managed to amalgamate these distant themes with his own unique twist on them.

Another well-known facet of his work is how Saint Lucia, his country of origin, is represented through allegories and metaphors. This allowed the world to finally recognized Saint Lucia as a nation with a unique and interesting history, rather than just another spec on the map of the world.

Sir Walcott found a sweet spot with in the juxtaposition of classical, European language and themes and the experiences of the new world, opened up by colonialization.

He had a penchant for referring to Crusoe, who he likened to a Caribbean writer, as in his mind, both were castaways. He spoke for this thought process to the Paris Review, stating the following, “In a sense every race that has come to the Caribbean has been brought here under conditions of servitude or rejection, and that is the metaphor of the shipwreck, I think. Then you look around you and you have to make your own tools… you are building in a situation that’s Adamic.”

His views on slavery were seen as profound and revelatory during his time, as he would often say that slavery and the legacy it left behind was like a wound, yet one can not nurse a wound forever.

Walcott was born in Castries, Saint Lucia, along with his twin brother. He had an older sister as well and was brought up by his mother due to the passing of his father before he was born.

Walcott’s parents maintained artistic interests as his father, a civil servant, was a keen painter and writer himself, while his mother Alix, was a schoolmistress and had a keen interest in poetry and hymns.

Thus, Walcott grew up in an environment where artistic expression was a way of life, bringing him closer to his eventual career as a poet and playwright of note.

Walcott went to St Mary’s College in Castries, where he received a British-styled education.

This, coupled with the effect of his friends, who spoke French-Creole and his Methodist family, which lived among the largely Roman Catholic residents of the island, equipped him to develop a well-rounded sense of culture.

This allowed Walcott to develop his own spin on the sense of difference that other novelists like Walter Scott, Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling also spoke of and wrote about often.
Sir Derek Walcott knew from an early age that he was artistically inclined and that he wished to be a writer. He was also a gifted painter in his younger days but gravitated more towards writing.

When Walcott was 14, he penned and published a religious poem in a local news paper which drew the ire of a local priest who disagreed strongly with its theology.

He also managed to convince his mother to fund the publication of two collections of poems, called 25 Poems (1948) and Epitaph for the Young (1949). He spent some time teaching Latin and art at his old school before pursuing a degree at the University of the West Indies in Kingston. He graduated from the University in 1953 and married Fay Moston in 1954, who gave him a son named Peter.

Unfortunately, the marriage lasted only 2 years and the couple got divorced eventually in 1959. Walcott went on to teach Latin and English in Grenada before moving to Trinidad where he remained till the 1980’s.

This did not keep him from writing notable plays such as Ione in 1957, which won him a Rockefeller Grant, allowing him to visit New York. This is where he began his work on his most famous play titled ‘Dream on Monkey Mountain’.

The play brought classic themes together with Caribbean music and dance, which resulted in a potent mix, garnering critical acclaim and the adoration of the public.

In 1959, he became the founder of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop and also met fellow poet Alan Ross. Walcott was close to writers such as Roy Fuller and VS Naipaul who appreciated his work very much. However, it was Alan Ross who helped him get In a Green Night (1962) published, which brought Sir Derek Walcott into the lime light.

In a Green Night was such a sensation that it caught the attention of Robert Graves, who said that Walcott had managed to develop an understanding of the “inner magic” of English.

That very same year, Walcott married Margaret Maillard, whom he had two daughters with, before their divorce in the mid-1970s. Walcott then married Norline Metivier in 1976, yet his third attempt at marriage also failed.

Walcott had a tumultuous personal life, due to his pursuit of women, which became an issue when he started teaching at American Universities. There were several accusations of harassment against him but not much came of them.

Walcott worked at Boston University after accepting a position there in 1981 and also spent time working at the universities of Harvard, Alberta and Essex.

He was being considered for the Professorship of Poetry at Oxford in 2009 but withdrew his candidacy after anonymous accusations of him having had sexual relationships with students began circulating.

Despite ups and downs in his personal life, Sir Derek Walcott remained one of the most appreciated poets and writers in the world and left a profound mark on the field of literature.

This is reflected in the fact that he received various accolades and awards during his lifetime, some of which include an OBE in 1972, a MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 1981; in 1988 he received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. After receiving the Nobel Prize, he received the TS Eliot Prize for his collection White Egrets (2010). Some of his most popular collections include The Arkansas Testament (1987) and Tiepolo’s Hound (2000), which also featured his paintings.

Nia Roberts
Nia Robertshttp://writeups24.com/
Nia Roberts, journalist at Writeups24, brings academic rigour and storytelling together. Nia's work covers diverse topics and uncovers hidden truths, amplifying marginalized voices. She stands as a paragon of journalistic integrity and a champion for the underrepresented. To reach Nia Roberts, you can email contact@writeups24.com

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