Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott

Poet and playwright born on January 23, 1930, in Castries, the capital of the former British colony of St. Lucia. He is today considered to be the best representative of the English-speaking Caribbean. The vast verbal richness of his work, the result of his Caribbean origin and his experiences, confirms it. He has earned the right to be considered one of the greatest poets in the English language and in 1992 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The son of a British painter and a mother from the island, and the grandson of slaves, his childhood was filled with contrasts that undoubtedly had an enormous influence on his way of writing. His father died when Walcott was just one year old. Added to this cultural mix was the fact that his family practiced Protestantism in a society where the Catholic religion was dominant. He majored in Literature at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica.

In 1953, he moved to Trinidad and Tobago, where he founded the legendary Trinidad Theater Workshop. It was there he produced his first theatrical works and he directed the Workshop until 1976. Several years later, he moved to the United States, where he worked at the prestigious Harvard University. He currently alternates his residence between Trinidad and Tobago and Boston, where he teaches a university class in literature.

Among his most outstanding theatrical works are Dream on Monkey Mountain and The Last Carnival. Walcott combines the richness of the Caribbean and its multiplicity of identities with its political tensions in the post-colonial age, which lends the theatrical performance an ontological value. Cultural plurality is the raw material of his work, which has resulted in an unprecedented sample of Caribbean diversity.

In addition to the Nobel Prize in Literature, he has won a variety of awards and scholarships over the course of his career from the Rockefeller Foundation (1957), the Eugene O’Neill Foundation (1969) and the MacArthur Foundation (1981). His masterwork, the epic poem Omeros, won the W.H. Smith award. In it, Walcott rewrites the Homeric epic with distinct Caribbean nuances. According to Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante, with Omeros Walcott showed that “the Nobel Prize deserved the prize winner,” and not the reverse.

Walcott’s poetry, most notably his Collected Poems (1948-1984) and The Arkansas Testament, gathered the best of all of the literary styles the author had absorbed, from the avant-garde to today. His work is thus unclassifiable and beyond any label.

His exaltation of the Caribbean is undeniable, as well as the presence in his work of European and African contributions, which for the author are part of the basis of the cultural richness of the Antillean conglomeration. Recently, Puerto Rican poet and professor Aurea María Sotomayor translated Walcott’s poem The Providence to Spanish.

Author: Christian Ibarra
Published: April 14, 2012.

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