Nobel prize poet Sir Derek Walcott dies aged 87
The Nobel prizewinning Caribbean poet and playwright, Sir Derek Walcott, has died at his home in St Lucia aged 87. He was professor of poetry at the University of Essex from 2010 to 2013. His works include the Homeric epic poem Omeros (1990). Walcott won the Nobel prize in 1992, and many other awards, including the Queen's Medal for Poetry, the 2011 TS Eliot prize for his poetry collection White Egrets, and the Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry lifetime recognition award in 2015.
The former poet laureate Andrew Motion paid tribute to “a wise and generous and brilliant man”. He went on: “As a member of the great Nobel-winning poetic generation that included Brodsky and Heaney, he did as much or more than anyone to win the global respect for Caribbean writing that it deserves and now enjoys.
“The rich sensualities of his writing are deeply evocative and also definitive, and its extraordinary historical and literary reach – in his long Homeric poem Omeros especially – gives everything in the present of his work the largest possible resonance. He will be remembered as a laureate of his particular world, who was also a laureate of the world in general.”
Walcott was born and raised in Castries, Saint Lucia, in the West Indies with a twin brother, the future playwright Roderick Walcott, and a sister, Pamela Walcott. His family is of African and European descent. 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 while his wife was pregnant with the twins Derek and Roderick, who were born after his death. The main square in Castries, St Lucia, is named Derek Walcott Square.
He taught at US universities, where two female students accused him of interfering with their academic achievements after they rejected his advances. This was said to have counted against him when he was passed over for the post of poet laureate in 1999. He was also forced to withdraw his candidacy for the post of Oxford professor of poetry in 2009 in a case which also forced the resignation of his rival Ruth Padel only nine days into her term.
Walcott published his first poem in the local newspaper at the age of 14. Five years later, he borrowed $200 to print his first collection, 25 Poems, which he distributed on street corners. Walcott’s breakthrough came with the collection In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960 (1962), a book which celebrates the Caribbean and its history as well as investigates the scars of colonialism and post-colonialism. Known for his technical control, erudition, and large canvases, Walcott’s work, according to poet and critic Sean O’Brien, “is conceived on an oceanic scale and one of its fundamental concerns is to give an account of the simultaneous unity and division created by the ocean and by human dealings with it”.