Derek Alton Walcott

Derek Alton Walcott

West Indian poet and playwright noted for works that explore the Caribbean cultural experience. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.
Walcott was of mixed black, Dutch, and English descent. He was educated at St. Mary's College, St. Lucia, and at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He began writing poetry at an early age, taught at schools in St. Lucia and Grenada, and contributed articles and reviews to periodicals in Trinidad and Jamaica. Productions of his plays began in St. Lucia in 1950, and he studied theatre in New York City in 1958-59. He lived thereafter in Trinidad and the United States, teaching for part of the year at Boston University.

Walcott is best known for his poetry, beginning with In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960 (1962). This book is typical of his early poetry in its celebration of the Caribbean landscape's natural beauty. The verse in Selected Poems (1964), The Castaway (1965), and The Gulf (1969) is similarly lush in style and incantatory in mood as Walcott expresses his feelings of personal isolation, caught between his European cultural orientation and the black folk cultures of his native Caribbean. Another Life (1973) is a book-length autobiographical poem. In Sea Grapes (1976) and The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979), Walcott uses a tenser, more economical style to examine the deep cultural divisions of language and race in the Caribbean. The Fortunate Traveler (1981) and Midsummer (1984) explore his own situation as a black writer in America who has become increasingly estranged from his Caribbean homeland. Walcott's Collected Poems, 1948-1984, was published in 1986. In his book-length poem Omeros (1990), he retold the dramas of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey in a 20th-century Caribbean setting.

Of Walcott's approximately 30 plays, the best known are Dream on Monkey Mountain (produced 1967), Ti-Jean and His Brothers (1958), and Pantomime (1978). Many of his plays make use of themes from black folk culture in the Caribbean.

Walcott's life and works are traced in Robert D. Hamner, Derek Walcott, updated ed. (1993). Critical studies include Stewart Brown (ed.) The Art of Derek Walcott (1991); Rei Terada, Derek Walcott's Poetry: American Mimicry (1992); Robert D. Hamner (compiler and ed.), Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott (1993); and Bruce King, Derek Walcott and West Indian Drama (1995).


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