Sir Derek Alton Walcott, KCSL, OBE, OCC (23 January 1930 – 17 March
2017) was a Saint Lucian poet and playwright. He received the 1992
Nobel Prize in Literature. He was Professor of Poetry at the
University of Essex
University of Essex from 2010 to 2013. His works include the Homeric
Omeros (1990), which many critics view "as Walcott's major
achievement." In addition to winning the Nobel Prize, Walcott
received many literary awards over the course of his career, including
Obie Award in 1971 for his play Dream on Monkey Mountain, a
MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, a Royal Society of Literature
Award, the Queen's Medal for Poetry, the inaugural OCM Bocas Prize for
Caribbean Literature, the 2011
T. S. Eliot Prize
T. S. Eliot Prize for his book of
poetry White Egrets and the Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry
Lifetime Recognition Award in 2015.
1 Early life and childhood
2.1 Controversy over allegations of sexual harassment
3.6 Criticism and praise
4 Personal life
7 Awards and honours
8 List of works
9 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
Early life and childhood
Walcott was born and raised in Castries, Saint Lucia, in the West
Indies, the son of Alix (Maarlin) and Warwick Walcott. He had a
twin brother, the playwright Roderick Walcott, and a sister, Pamela
Walcott. His family is of English, Dutch and African descent,
reflecting the complex colonial history of the island that he explores
in his poetry. His mother, a teacher, loved the arts and often recited
poetry around the house. His father, who painted and wrote poetry,
died at the age of 31 from mastoiditis while his wife was pregnant
with the twins Derek and Roderick. Walcott's family was part of a
minority Methodist community, who felt overshadowed by the dominant
Catholic culture of the island established during French colonial
As a young man Walcott trained as a painter, mentored by Harold
Simmons, whose life as a professional artist provided an inspiring
example for him. Walcott greatly admired
sought to learn from them. Walcott's painting was later exhibited
Anita Shapolsky Gallery in New York City, along with the art of
other writers, in a 2007 exhibition named "The Writer's Brush:
Paintings and Drawing by Writers".
He studied as a writer, becoming "an elated, exuberant poet madly in
love with English" and strongly influenced by modernist poets such as
T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Walcott had an early sense of a
vocation as a writer. In the poem "Midsummer" (1984), he wrote:
Forty years gone, in my island childhood, I felt that
the gift of poetry had made me one of the chosen,
that all experience was kindling to the fire of the Muse.
At 14, Walcott published his first poem, a Miltonic, religious poem,
in the newspaper The Voice of St Lucia. An English Catholic priest
condemned the Methodist-inspired poem as blasphemous in a response
printed in the newspaper. By 19, Walcott had self-published his
first two collections with the aid of his mother, who paid for the
printing: 25 Poems (1948) and Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos
(1949). He sold copies to his friends and covered the costs. He
I went to my mother and said, "I’d like to publish a book of poems,
and I think it’s going to cost me two hundred dollars." She was just
a seamstress and a schoolteacher, and I remember her being very upset
because she wanted to do it. Somehow she got it—a lot of money for a
woman to have found on her salary. She gave it to me, and I sent off
Trinidad and had the book printed. When the books came back I would
sell them to friends. I made the money back.
The influential Bajan poet
Frank Collymore critically supported
Walcott's early work.
With a scholarship, he studied at the University College of the West
Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
Derek Walcott, VIII Festival Internacional, 1992
After graduation, Walcott moved to
Trinidad in 1953, where he became a
critic, teacher and journalist. He founded the
Workshop in 1959 and remained active with its Board of
Exploring the Caribbean and its history in a colonialist and
post-colonialist context, his collection In a Green Night: Poems
1948–1960 (1962) attracted international attention. His play
Dream on Monkey Mountain (1970) was produced on NBC-TV in the United
States the year it was published. In 1971 it was produced by the Negro
Ensemble Company off-Broadway in New York City; it won an Obie Award
that year for "Best Foreign Play". The following year, Walcott won
OBE from the British government for his work.
He was hired as a teacher by
Boston University in the United States,
where he founded the
Boston Playwrights' Theatre
Boston Playwrights' Theatre in 1981. That year he
also received a
MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in the United States.
Walcott taught literature and writing at
Boston University for more
than two decades, publishing new books of poetry and plays on a
regular basis. Walcott retired from his position at Boston University
in 2007. He became friends with other poets, including the Russian
expatriate Joseph Brodsky, who lived and worked in the U.S. after
being exiled in the 1970s, and the Irishman Seamus Heaney, who also
taught in Boston.
His epic poem
Omeros (1990), which loosely echoes and refers to
characters from the Iliad, has been critically praised "as Walcott's
major achievement." The book received praise from publications such
The Washington Post
The Washington Post and The New York Times Book Review, which chose
Omeros as one of its "Best Books of 1990".
Walcott was awarded the
Nobel Prize in Literature
Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992, the second
Caribbean writer to receive the honour after Saint-John Perse, who was
born in Guadeloupe, received the award in 1960. The Nobel committee
described Walcott's work as "a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity,
sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural
commitment". He won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime
Achievement in 2004.
His later poetry collections include Tiepolo’s Hound (2000),
illustrated with copies of his watercolors; The Prodigal (2004),
and White Egrets (2010), which received the T.S. Eliot Prize
and the 2011 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.
In 2009, Walcott began a three-year distinguished scholar-in-residence
position at the University of Alberta. In 2010, he became Professor of
Poetry at the University of Essex.
As a part of St Lucia's Independence Day celebrations, in February
2016, he became one of the first knights of the Order of Saint
Controversy over allegations of sexual harassment
In 1982 a Harvard sophomore accused Walcott of sexual harassment in
September 1981. She alleged that after she refused a sexual advance
from him, she was given the only C in the class. In 1996 a student at
Boston University sued Walcott for sexual harassment and "offensive
sexual physical contact". The two reached a settlement.
In 2009, Walcott was a leading candidate for the position of Oxford
Professor of Poetry. He withdrew his candidacy after reports of the
accusations against him of sexual harassment from 1981 and 1996.
When the media learned that pages from an American book on the topic
were sent anonymously to a number of Oxford academics, this aroused
their interest in the university decisions.
Ruth Padel, also a leading candidate, was elected to the post. Within
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph reported that she had alerted journalists to
the harassment cases. Under severe media and academic
pressure, Padel resigned. Padel was the first woman to be
elected to the Oxford post, and some journalists attributed the
criticism of her to misogyny and a gender war at Oxford. They
said that a male poet would not have been so criticized, as she had
reported published information, not rumour.
Numerous respected poets, including
Seamus Heaney and Al Alvarez,
published a letter of support for Walcott in The Times Literary
Supplement, and criticized the press furore. Other commentators
suggested that both poets were casualties of the media interest in an
internal university affair, because the story "had everything, from
sex claims to allegations of character assassination". Simon
Armitage and other poets expressed regret at Padel's
Omeros in Leiden
Wall poem Midsummer, Tobago in The Hague
Methodism and spirituality have played a significant role from the
beginning in Walcott's work. He commented, "I have never separated the
writing of poetry from prayer. I have grown up believing it is a
vocation, a religious vocation." Describing his writing process, he
wrote, "the body feels it is melting into what it has seen… the 'I'
not being important. That is the ecstasy...Ultimately, it’s what
Yeats says: 'Such a sweetness flows into the breast that we laugh at
everything and everything we look upon is blessed.' That’s always
there. It’s a benediction, a transference. It’s gratitude, really.
The more of that a poet keeps, the more genuine his nature." He
also notes, "if one thinks a poem is coming on...you do make a
retreat, a withdrawal into some kind of silence that cuts out
everything around you. What you’re taking on is really not a renewal
of your identity but actually a renewal of your anonymity."
Walcott said his writing was influenced by the work of the American
Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, who were also friends.
He published more than twenty plays, the majority of which have been
produced by the
Trinidad Theatre Workshop and have also been widely
staged elsewhere. Many of them address, either directly or indirectly,
the liminal status of the
West Indies in the post-colonial period.
Through poetry he also explores the paradoxes and complexities of this
In his 1970 essay "What the Twilight Says: An Overture", discussing
art and theatre in his native region (from Dream on Monkey Mountain
and Other Plays), Walcott reflects on the
West Indies as colonized
space. He discusses the problems for an artist of a region with little
in the way of truly indigenous forms, and with little national or
nationalist identity. He states: "We are all strangers here... Our
bodies think in one language and move in another". The epistemological
effects of colonization inform plays such as Ti-Jean and his Brothers.
Mi-Jean, one of the eponymous brothers, is shown to have much
information, but to truly know nothing. Every line Mi-Jean recites is
rote knowledge gained from the coloniser; he is unable to synthesize
it or apply it to his life as a colonised person.
Walcott notes of growing up in West Indian culture
What we were deprived of was also our privilege. There was a great joy
in making a world that so far, up to then, had been undefined... My
generation of West Indian writers has felt such a powerful elation at
having the privilege of writing about places and people for the first
time and, simultaneously, having behind them the tradition of knowing
how well it can be done—by a Defoe, a Dickens, a Richardson.
Walcott identified as "absolutely a Caribbean writer", a pioneer,
helping to make sense of the legacy of deep colonial damage. In
such poems as "The Castaway" (1965) and in the play Pantomime (1978),
he uses the metaphors of shipwreck and Crusoe to describe the culture
and what is required of artists after colonialism and slavery: both
the freedom and the challenge to begin again, salvage the best of
other cultures and make something new. These images recur in later
work as well. He writes, "If we continue to sulk and say, Look at what
the slave-owner did, and so forth, we will never mature. While we sit
moping or writing morose poems and novels that glorify a non-existent
past, then time passes us by."
Walcott's epic book-length poem
Omeros was published in 1990 to
critical acclaim. The poem very loosely echoes and references Homer
and some of his major characters from The Iliad. Some of the poem's
major characters include the island fishermen Achille and Hector, the
retired English officer Major Plunkett and his wife Maud, the
housemaid Helen, the blind man Seven Seas (who symbolically represents
Homer), and the author himself.
Although the main narrative of the poem takes place on the island of
St. Lucia, where Walcott was born and raised, Walcott also includes
Brookline, Massachusetts (where Walcott was living and
teaching at the time of the poem's composition), and the character
Achille imagines a voyage from Africa onto a slave ship that is headed
for the Americas; also, in Book Five of the poem, Walcott narrates
some of his travel experiences in a variety of cities around the
world, including Lisbon, London, Dublin, Rome, and Toronto.
Composed in a variation on terza rima, the work explores the themes
that run throughout Walcott's oeuvre: the beauty of the islands, the
colonial burden, the fragmentation of Caribbean identity, and the role
of the poet in a post-colonial world.
Criticism and praise
Walcott's work has received praise from major poets including Robert
Graves, who wrote that Walcott "handles English with a closer
understanding of its inner magic than most, if not any, of his
contemporaries", and Joseph Brodsky, who praised Walcott's work,
writing: "For almost forty years his throbbing and relentless lines
kept arriving in the English language like tidal waves, coagulating
into an archipelago of poems without which the map of modern
literature would effectively match wallpaper. He gives us more than
himself or 'a world'; he gives us a sense of infinity embodied in the
language." Walcott noted that he, Brodsky, and the Irish poet
Seamus Heaney, who all taught in the United States, were a band of
poets "outside the American experience".
The poetry critic William Logan critiqued Walcott's work in a New York
Times book review of Walcott's Selected Poems. While he praised
Walcott's writing in Sea Grapes and The Arkansas Testament, Logan had
mostly negative things to say about Walcott's poetry, calling Omeros
"clumsy" and Another Life "pretentious." Finally, he concluded with
the faint praise that "No living poet has written verse more
delicately rendered or distinguished than Walcott, though few
individual poems seem destined to be remembered."
Most reviews of Walcott's work are more positive. For instance, in The
New Yorker review of The Poetry of Derek Walcott,
Adam Kirsch had high
praise for Walcott's oeuvre, describing his style in the following
By combining the grammar of vision with the freedom of metaphor,
Walcott produces a beautiful style that is also a philosophical style.
People perceive the world on dual channels, Walcott’s verse
suggests, through the senses and through the mind, and each is
constantly seeping into the other. The result is a state of perpetual
magical thinking, a kind of
Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland world where concepts
have bodies and landscapes are always liable to get up and start
Kirsch calls Another Life Walcott's "first major peak" and analyzes
the painterly qualities of Walcott's imagery from his earliest work
through to later books like Tiepolo's Hound. He also explores the
post-colonial politics in Walcott's work, calling him "the
postcolonial writer par excellence." He calls the early poem "A Far
Cry from Africa" a turning point in Walcott's development as a poet.
Like Logan, Kirsch is critical of
Omeros which he believes Walcott
fails to successfully sustain over its entirety. Although
the volume of Walcott's that usually receives the most critical
praise, Kirsch believes that Midsummer is his best book.
His poetry, as spoken performance, appears briefly in the sampled
sounds in the music album of the group Dreadzone. Their track entitled
'Captain Dread' from the album 'Second Light' incorporates the fourth
verse of Walcott's 1990 poem 'The Schooner Flight'.
In 2013 Dutch filmmaker Ida Does released "Poetry is an Island", a
feature documentary film about Derek Walcott's life and the
ever-present influence of his birthplace of St Lucia.
In 1954 Walcott married Fay Moston, a secretary, but the marriage
ended in divorce in 1959. They had a son, the St Lucian painter Peter
Walcott. Walcott married a second time to Margaret Maillard in 1962,
who worked as an almoner in a hospital, and together they had two
daughters, Elizabeth, and Anna; they divorced in 1976. In 1976,
Walcott married for a third time, to actress Norline Metivier
(divorced in 1993). He was survived by his longtime companion, Sigrid
Nama, a former art gallery owner.
Walcott was also known for his passion for travelling to countries
around the world. He split his time between New York, Boston, and St.
Lucia, and incorporated the influences of different areas into his
pieces of work.
Derek Walcott's grave on Morne Fortune
Walcott died at his home in Cap Estate, St. Lucia, on 17 March
2017. He was 87. He was given a state funeral on Saturday, 25
March, with a service at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate
Castries and burial at Morne Fortune.
In 1993, a public square and park located in central Castries, Saint
Lucia, was named
Derek Walcott Square.
Saint Lucia National Trust acquired Walcott's childhood home at 17
Chaussée Road, Castries, in November 2015, renovating it before
opening it to the public as Walcott House in January 2016.
Awards and honours
1969 Cholmondeley Award
Obie Award for Best Foreign Play (for Dream on Monkey
1972 Officer of the Order of the British Empire
MacArthur Foundation Fellowship ("genius award")
1988 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry
Arts Council of Wales
Arts Council of Wales International Writers Prize
W. H. Smith Literary Award (for poetry Omeros)
Nobel Prize in Literature
Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement
2008 Honorary doctorate from the University of Essex
T. S. Eliot Prize
T. S. Eliot Prize (for poetry collection White Egrets)
OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (for White Egrets)
2015 Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry Lifetime Recognition
2016 Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Lucia
List of works
Works by or about
Derek Walcott in libraries (
Derek Walcott at
1948 25 Poems
1949 Epitaph for the Young: Xll Cantos
1962 In a Green Night: Poems 1948—60
1964 Selected Poems
1965 The Castaway and Other Poems
1969 The Gulf and Other Poems
1973 Another Life
1976 Sea Grapes
1979 The Star-Apple Kingdom
1981 Selected Poetry
1981 The Fortunate Traveller
1983 The Caribbean Poetry of
Derek Walcott and the Art of Romare
1986 Collected Poems, 1948–1984, featuring "Love After Love"
1987 Central America
1987 The Arkansas Testament
1997 The Bounty
2000 Tiepolo's Hound, includes Walcott's watercolors
2004 The Prodigal
2007 Selected Poems (edited, selected, and with an introduction by
2010 White Egrets
2014 The Poetry of
Derek Walcott 1948–2013
(1950) Henri Christophe: A Chronicle in Seven Scenes
(1951) Harry Dernier: A Play for Radio Production
(1953) Wine of the Country
(1954) The Sea at Dauphin: A Play in One Act
(1958) Drums and Colours: An Epic Drama
(1958) Ti-Jean and His Brothers
(1966) Malcochon: or, Six in the Rain
(1967) Dream on Monkey Mountain
(1970) In a Fine Castle
(1974) The Joker of Seville
(1974) The Charlatan
(1976) O Babylon!
(1980) The Joker of Seville and O Babylon!: Two Plays
(1982) The Isle Is Full of Noises
(1984) The Haitian Earth
(1986) Three Plays: The Last Carnival, Beef, No Chicken, and A Branch
of the Blue Nile
(1993) Odyssey: A Stage Version
The Capeman (book and lyrics, both in collaboration with Paul
(2002) Walker and The Ghost Dance
(2014) O Starry Starry Night
Poet in the Theatre, Poetry Book Society (London)
(1993) The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory Farrar, Straus (New
(1996) Conversations with Derek Walcott, University of Mississippi
Joseph Brodsky and Seamus Heaney) Homage to Robert Frost,
Farrar, Straus (New York)
(1998) What the Twilight Says (essays), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY)
(2002) Walker and Ghost Dance, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY)
(2004) Another Life: Fully Annotated, Lynne Rienner Publishers
(2016) Morning, Paramin Derek Walcott; illustrated by Peter Doig,
Farrar, Straus (New York, NY)
Nobel Prize laureates
"Love After Love", a poem by Derek Walcott
Derek Walcott – Biographical". Nobelprize.org. 1992. Retrieved 18
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Baugh, Edward, Derek Walcott. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
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University of Chicago Press, 2001. ISBN 0-226-07426-9
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Sarkar, Nirjhar, "Existence as self-making in Derek Walcott's The Sea
Anthurium (ISSN 1547-7150) 14.2 (2018): 1-15 
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Northeastern University Press, 1992.
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Wikiquote has quotations related to: Derek Walcott
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Edward Hirsch, "Derek Walcott, The Art of Poetry No. 37", The Paris
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Famouspeople.com, personal life
Biography available in Saint Lucians and the Order of CARICOM
Appearances on C-SPAN
Appearance on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 9 June 1991
Plays by Derek Walcott
Henri Christophe (1950)
Harry Dernier (1951)
Wine of the Country
Wine of the Country (1953)
The Sea at Dauphin
The Sea at Dauphin (1954)
Drums and Colours (1958)
Ti-Jean and His Brothers
Ti-Jean and His Brothers (1958)
Malcochon: or, Six in the Rain (1966)
Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967)
In a Fine Castle
In a Fine Castle (1970)
The Joker of Seville (1974)
The Charlatan (1974)
O Babylon! (1976)
The Isle Is Full of Noises
The Isle Is Full of Noises (1982)
The Last Carnival (1986)
Beef, No Chicken (1986)
A Branch of the Blue Nile (1986)
Odyssey: A Stage Version (1993)
The Capeman (1997)
Walker and The Ghost Dance
Walker and The Ghost Dance (2002)
Laureates of the
Nobel Prize in Literature
1901 Sully Prudhomme
1902 Theodor Mommsen
1903 Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson
Frédéric Mistral / José Echegaray
1905 Henryk Sienkiewicz
1906 Giosuè Carducci
1907 Rudyard Kipling
1908 Rudolf Eucken
1909 Selma Lagerlöf
1910 Paul Heyse
1911 Maurice Maeterlinck
1912 Gerhart Hauptmann
1913 Rabindranath Tagore
1915 Romain Rolland
1916 Verner von Heidenstam
1917 Karl Gjellerup / Henrik Pontoppidan
1919 Carl Spitteler
1920 Knut Hamsun
1921 Anatole France
1922 Jacinto Benavente
1923 W. B. Yeats
1924 Władysław Reymont
1925 George Bernard Shaw
1926 Grazia Deledda
1927 Henri Bergson
1928 Sigrid Undset
1929 Thomas Mann
1930 Sinclair Lewis
1931 Erik Axel Karlfeldt
1932 John Galsworthy
1933 Ivan Bunin
1934 Luigi Pirandello
1936 Eugene O'Neill
1937 Roger Martin du Gard
1938 Pearl S. Buck
1939 Frans Eemil Sillanpää
1944 Johannes V. Jensen
1945 Gabriela Mistral
1946 Hermann Hesse
1947 André Gide
1948 T. S. Eliot
1949 William Faulkner
1950 Bertrand Russell
1951 Pär Lagerkvist
1952 François Mauriac
1953 Winston Churchill
1954 Ernest Hemingway
1955 Halldór Laxness
1956 Juan Ramón Jiménez
1957 Albert Camus
1958 Boris Pasternak
1959 Salvatore Quasimodo
1960 Saint-John Perse
1961 Ivo Andrić
1962 John Steinbeck
1963 Giorgos Seferis
Jean-Paul Sartre (declined award)
1965 Mikhail Sholokhov
Shmuel Yosef Agnon
Shmuel Yosef Agnon / Nelly Sachs
1967 Miguel Ángel Asturias
1968 Yasunari Kawabata
1969 Samuel Beckett
1970 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
1971 Pablo Neruda
1972 Heinrich Böll
1973 Patrick White
Eyvind Johnson / Harry Martinson
1975 Eugenio Montale
1976 Saul Bellow
1977 Vicente Aleixandre
1978 Isaac Bashevis Singer
1979 Odysseas Elytis
1980 Czesław Miłosz
1981 Elias Canetti
1982 Gabriel García Márquez
1983 William Golding
1984 Jaroslav Seifert
1985 Claude Simon
1986 Wole Soyinka
1987 Joseph Brodsky
1988 Naguib Mahfouz
1989 Camilo José Cela
1990 Octavio Paz
1991 Nadine Gordimer
1992 Derek Walcott
1993 Toni Morrison
1994 Kenzaburō Ōe
1995 Seamus Heaney
1996 Wisława Szymborska
1997 Dario Fo
1998 José Saramago
1999 Günter Grass
2000 Gao Xingjian
2001 V. S. Naipaul
2002 Imre Kertész
2003 J. M. Coetzee
2004 Elfriede Jelinek
2005 Harold Pinter
2006 Orhan Pamuk
2007 Doris Lessing
2008 J. M. G. Le Clézio
2009 Herta Müller
2010 Mario Vargas Llosa
2011 Tomas Tranströmer
2012 Mo Yan
2013 Alice Munro
2014 Patrick Modiano
2015 Svetlana Alexievich
2016 Bob Dylan
2017 Kazuo Ishiguro
Nobel Prize laureates
Rudolph A. Marcus
Rudolph A. Marcus (United States/Canada)
Derek Walcott (Saint Lucia)
Rigoberta Menchú (Guatemala)
Georges Charpak (France/Poland)
Physiology or Medicine
Edmond H. Fischer
Edmond H. Fischer (Switzerland/United States)
Edwin G. Krebs
Edwin G. Krebs (United States)
Gary Becker (United States)
Nobel Prize recipients
ISNI: 0000 0001 1470 9596
BNF: cb12029218n (data)