Authors: Derek Walcott

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

West Indian poet and playwright

Identity: African descent

Author Works

Poetry:

Twenty-five Poems, 1948

Poems, 1951

In a Green Night: Poems, 1948-1960, 1962

Selected Poems, 1964

The Castaway, and Other Poems, 1965

The Gulf, and Other Poems, 1969

Another Life, 1973

Sea Grapes, 1976

The Star-Apple Kingdom, 1979

The Fortunate Traveller, 1981

Midsummer, 1984

Collected Poems, 1948-1984, 1986

The Arkansas Testament, 1987

Omeros, 1990

Poems, 1965-1980, 1992

The Bounty, 1997

Tiepolo’s Hound, 2000

Drama:

Henri Christophe: A Chronicle, pr., pb. 1950

The Sea of Dauphin, pr., pb. 1954

The Wine of the Country, pr. 1956

Ione, pr. 1957

Ti-Jean and His Brothers, pr. 1957, revised pr. 1958 (music by Andre Tanker)

Drums and Colours, pr. 1958

Malcochon: Or, Six in the Rain, pr. 1959

Dream on Monkey Mountain, pr. 1967

Dream on Monkey Mountain, and Other Plays, pb. 1970

In a Fine Castle, pr. 1970

The Joker of Seville, pr. 1974 (adaptation of Tirso de Molina’s El burlador de Sevilla; music by Galt MacDermot)

The Charlatan, pr. 1974

O Babylon!, pr. 1976

Remembrance, pr. 1977

“The Joker of Seville” and “O Babylon!”: Two Plays, pb. 1978

Pantomime, pr. 1978

Marie LaVeau, pr. 1979

“Remembrance” and “Pantomime,” pb. 1980

Beef, No Chicken, pr. 1981

The Last Carnival, pr. 1982

The Isle Is Full of Noises, pr. 1982

A Branch of the Blue Nile, pr. 1983

To Die for Grenada, pr. 1986

Three Plays, pb. 1986

Ghost Dance, pr. 1989

Viva Detroit, pr. 1990

Steel, pr. 1991 (music by MacDermot)

The Odyssey, pr. 1992, pb. 1993

Walker, pr. 1992, revised pb. 2002

The Capeman: A Musical, pr. 1997, pb. 1998 (music by Paul Simon)

The Haitian Trilogy, pb. 2001

Nonfiction:

“Meanings: From a Conversation with Derek Walcott,” 1970 (in Performing Arts)

The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory, 1993 (Nobel lecture)

Homage to Robert Frost, 1996 (with Joseph Brodsky and Seamus Heaney)

What the Twilight Says: Essays, 1998

Biography

Derek Alton Walcott is one of the most highly regarded poets writing in English, let alone from the English-speaking Caribbean. His prodigious talent and energy were recognized early in Castries, St. Lucia, and his mother, Alix Walcott, encouraged him, his older sister, and his twin brother, Roderick Walcott (also an accomplished playwright), in their art. Their father, Warwick Walcott, wrote and painted watercolors as an avocation; he died at age thirty-five when the twin brothers were one year old. Derek Walcott has won numerous awards and fellowships for his writing, among them the Welsh Arts Council International Writers Prize (1980), the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation Prize (1981), the Los Angeles Times Book Award (1986) for his Collected Poems, 1948-1984, the Queen’s Gold Medal for Literature (1989), the St. Lucia Cross (1993), and the Nobel Prize in Literature (1992). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (1966) and an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1979).{$I[AN]9810000717}{$I[A]Walcott, Derek}{$I[geo]WEST INDIES;Walcott, Derek}{$I[geo]ST. LUCIA[SAINT LUCIA];Walcott, Derek}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;Walcott, Derek}{$I[tim]1930;Walcott, Derek}

Derek Walcott

(Virginia Shendler)

Walcott attended St. Mary’s College in Castries and the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, earning a B.A. in English, French, and Latin in 1953. With his mother’s financial help, he published his first volume of poems in 1948. His first play, Henri Christophe, was produced in 1950 by the student drama society at Jamaica. He taught Latin and other subjects in Grenada, St. Lucia, and Trinidad until 1959, when he founded the Little Carib Theatre Workshop (later known as the Trinidad Theatre Workshop). He worked with the company until 1976, writing many of his most important plays for actors he had trained. Among the plays premiered there were Ti-Jean and His Brothers, Dream on Monkey Mountain (which won an Obie Award in 1971), The Joker of Seville, and O Babylon! In that same period, he finished six volumes of poetry, including Another Life, the book-length autobiographical poem that, like William Wordsworth’s The Prelude (1850), chronicles the growth of the poet’s imagination.

In the late 1970’s, Walcott taught at Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and New York universities before accepting a full-time post at Boston University in 1981; after 1985 this became a visiting professorship. Dividing his time between teaching in the United States and living in St. Lucia and Trinidad permitted the division within his African and European heritage (which he defined in “A Far Cry from Africa” and other early poems) to be elaborated in terms of the metropolitan state and the developing islands. The placing of his poetry in both halves of the New World reveals an ambitious effort to bring into creative tension the conflicts of his divided life as a part-black and part-white man of the postcolonial world of the Americas. That effort is mounted in a literary context. Thus his poetry draws upon the tradition within which he locates his work, that of Andrew Marvell, John Milton, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, John Donne, W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, William Butler Yeats, and many others, including Robert Lowell and especially Homer, whose works underlie Walcott’s best-known work Omeros–as well as in a historical context of a postslavery, postcolonial society.

The racial and political ironies of Walcott’s West Indian situation are also the subject of his plays from the late 1970’s, Remembrance and Pantomime. In the latter, a white Englishman and a black calypsonian from Trinidad exchange places in rehearsing a music-hall version of Robinson Crusoe, in which Crusoe is black and Friday is white. They play out their oppositions to reach a relationship that is nearly brotherhood, though Crusoe has to ask Friday for a raise.

Walcott has both been criticized for writing a self-indulgent, highly wrought poetic line and praised for a line that is Elizabethan in grandeur and richness. Some critics have accused him of betraying the very people his poetry should speak to and for: the indigent, Creole-speaking West Indian who likely cannot read the poetry that Walcott writes. Such critics favor Jamaican “dub” and reggae-based poetry, but they misconstrue the importance of the Trinidadian calypso in Walcott’s work, and indeed in the East Caribbean. Walcott the lyric poet and narrative poet is also a dramatic poet, and his plays and poems elucidate each other. A thorough assessment of Walcott’s work cannot be made without integrating the poet and playwright with the painter who swore on his eighteenth birthday to put his island into paint and words and who has been admirably successful at the task for decades. His ability to paint these images so lyrically in words was recognized by his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992. He was the first black man to win the award, and the prize brought attention to West Indian writers in general. Walcott’s best work may be those poems, such as Another Life, that, whatever the foregrounded subject, take as their realm the villages of St. Lucia–Anse La Raye, Dennery, Choiseul, Gros Islet, Vieuxfort, Soufriere, and the city of Castries–and the spectacular forests, mountains, and seas of the Caribbean.

BibliographyBaer, William. Conversations with Derek Walcott. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996. Collection of previously published interviews, spanning 1966-1993.Bloom, Harold, ed. Derek Walcott. New York: Chelsea House, 2003. A collection of essays intended to provide an overview of the critical reception of Walcott’s work.Bobb, June D. Beating a Restless Drum: The Poetics of Kamau Brathwaite and Derek Walcott. Trenton, N.J.: African World Press, 1998. Examines the influence of colonization and slavery on the Caribbean’s most important anglophone poets, linking them to a specifically Caribbean tradition rooted in African mythologies and other influences. Bibliography, index.Brown, Stewart, ed. The Art of Derek Walcott. Mid-Glamorgan: Wales: Dufour, 1991.Burnett, Paula. Derek Walcott: Politics and Poetics. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001. Sees the drama and poetry together designed to create a legacy for modern Caribbean society, incorporating myth, identity, and aesthetics. Notes, bibliography, index.Davis, Gregson, ed. The Poetics of Derek Walcott. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997. A collection of critical essays on the poetry. The cornerstone essay is one in which Walcott reflects on poetics, illuminating his masterpiece Omeros. Other contributors focus on central thematic concerns as well as modes of expression.Hamner, Robert D., ed. Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents, 1993.Hamner, Robert D. Derek Walcott. New York: Twayne, 1993. Hamner conducts a thorough exploration of Walcott’s plays, poems, and critical articles, ending with The Star-Apple Kingdom. The text is supplemented by a selected bibliography of both primary and secondary sources and an index.Heaney, Seamus. “An Authentic Poetic Voice that Bridges Time, Cultures.” Boston Globe, February 9, 1986, 27-28.King, Bruce. Derek Walcott and West Indian Drama. Oxford, England: Clarendon, 1995. This thoroughly researched study of the development of Walcott’s Trinidad Theatre Workshop is valuable for its historical data, illustrations, and calendar of performances from the 1950’s through 1993.King, Bruce. Derek Walcott: A Caribbean Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. The first literary biography, with reference to letters, diaries, uncollected and unpublished writings, and interviews in the Caribbean, North America, and Europe.Ross, Robert L., ed. International Literature in English: Essays on the Major Writers. New York: Garland, 1991. Robert D. Hamner contributes an essay on Walcott, taking his biography up to the Catherine MacArthur Award in 1981. Counts fourteen books of poetry (to The Arkansas Testament) and four volumes of plays, and discusses the “chiaroscuro” of Walcott’s aesthetic choices, which “creates the illusion of bulk and depth for three-dimensional objects in a two-dimensional plane.”Terada, Rei. Derek Walcott’s Poetry: American Mimicry. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992. Although this book primarily concentrates on the poetry, Terada touches on several plays in discussing Walcott’s creative use of ideas and elements assimilated from the many cultural strands running through the New World.Thieme, John. Derek Walcott. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. An introductory biography and critical interpretation of selected works. Includes bibliographical references and index.Walcott, Derek. Another Life: Fully Annotated. Boulder, Colo.: L. Rienner, 2004. Valuable notes and a critical essay by Edward Baugh and Colbert Nepaulsingh greatly enhance the reader’s understanding of this work.White, J. P. “An Interview with Derek Walcott.” Green Mountain Review 4, no. 1 (Spring-Summer, 1990): 14-37.
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