Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
In Castries, capital of the small Caribbean island of St. Lucia, Derek Alton Walcott and his twin brother, Roderick, were born January 23, 1930. Their mother, Alix, was a teacher in a Methodist primary school, while their father, Warwick, was a civil official and a gifted artist. Although Walcott lost his father when he was hardly a year old, fatherly guidance was provided by the St. Lucian painter Harold Simmons, the mentor commemorated in Walcott’s autobiographical poem Another Life.
Being of mixed blood—his grandfathers were white Dutch and English, his grandmothers black—and the son of Protestants in a predominantly Catholic island, Walcott experienced from an early age the schizophrenia of New World blacks and mulattoes in an alien environment. While childhood in a colonial backwater island might seem disadvantageous, Walcott believes that his classroom exposure to traditional Western culture—Greek, Roman, and British—was vitally enriching. Combining this with his informal contact with African slave tales and life in the streets, he learned to admire both currents of his dual heritage. Early evidence of his gift for cultural synthesis appears in one of Walcott’s first plays, Henri Christophe. This dramatization of the famous black rebel general is couched in the poetic images and the elaborate language of Elizabethan England.
In order to provide an outlet for his drama, Walcott and his brother founded the St....
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: World Poets)
Derek Alton Walcott was born in Castries, the capital of St. Lucia, to a civil servant, Warwick, and to Alix, the head of a Methodist grammar school. St. Lucia is a volcanic island of 238 square miles in the Lesser Antilles, halfway between French Martinique to the north and English St. Vincent to the southeast. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502, then contested for generations by the French and British, until the latter gained legal control in 1803, to yield their colonial hold only in 1959. Still, the Gallic influence remains, insofar as the population of about 100,000, largely of black African descent, speaks a Creole patois.
Because Walcott is descended from a white grandfather and black grandmother on both sides of his family, he has found himself ineluctably suspended between loyalties, resentments, fears, and fantasies. He has referred in essays to a schizophrenic boyhood, split between two lives: the interior pull toward poetry and the exterior push toward the world of action, as well as the raw spontaneity of his native argot opposed to the syntactical sinews of formal English. Inescapably, he has been both victim and victor of his divided culture, a kind of Caribbean Orestes who shuttles between the legends and folklore of his upbringing and the formal traditions of the cosmopolitan West. In his work Walcott has made much of the bridging geography of the West Indies, since they link Columbus and Robinson Crusoe, Africa and...
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Derek Walcott and twin brother Roderick were one year old when their father died at age thirty-five after an operation. The boys’ mother, headmistress of a Methodist infant school, worked hard to keep them and their older sister Pamela at college.
Walcott completed his B.A. at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, in 1953, with three years in English, French, and Latin, and stayed on for another year as a graduate student in education. He taught in St. Lucia, Grenada, and Jamaica, married three times, and has three children.
Through a grant, Walcott studied theater in New York from 1957 to 1958. He then settled in Trinidad in 1959, wrote, and founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop. With Roderick, he founded the St. Lucia Arts Guild in 1950. His publications include fourteen books of poetry and four volumes of plays.
Walcott has characterized his childhood as schizophrenic. Of African and English ancestry, he grew up in a middle-class, Protestant family in a society that was predominantly Roman Catholic and poor. Educated in European history, art, and literature, he is also in contact with the black, African-based culture of the St. Lucian majority. All that is “illegitimate, rootless, mongrelized” became the metaphor for his artistic and dramatic approach. Responding to fellow Caribbean writer V. S. Naipaul’s argument...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
On January 23, 1930, Derek Alton Walcott and his twin brother, Roderick Alton Walcott, were born to Warwick and Alix Walcott on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, in the West Indies. In addition to his twin brother, he had an older sister, Pamela. Walcott was born into a Methodist family while most of his neighbors were Catholic, the legacy of long French colonial rule. In April, 1931, Walcott’s father, clerk of the First District Court, died, leaving Alix Walcott, the headmistress of the Methodist Infant Day School, to rear the children. With two white grandfathers and his family’s economic and religious status, Walcott was caught between races and classes.
Four influences shaped his aesthetic growth: his formal English education, his talent as a painter, the life of the island itself, and his religious background. His colonial education was thorough, including Greek and Latin and the essential European masterpieces. Following his father’s talents, Walcott was as interested in painting as in literature. His mentor, the local painter Harry Simmons, recognized that Walcott’s talents as a writer surpassed his talents as a painter and guided him through the transition from painting to poetry. His poems are replete with the language and actions of fishers and peasants, as well as the acute observations of the natural world. His religious background...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Who inherits language and what powers come from that language and the circumstances of its inheritance? Derek Walcott’s poetry and drama consistently address and explore this question. His use of image, metaphor, persona, rhyme, and meter are all marked by technical distinction. While the effects may falter in individual poems—metaphors that finally overreach, for example—the demands made upon language to sing are fully present. His themes of exile, language, art, memory, and love necessitate his rigorous brilliance. Finally, his sense of landscape, particularly of the Caribbean and the sea, informs his language.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
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).
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...
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IntroductionDerek Walcott gave the West Indies a voice. In his plays, poetry, and critical essays, Walcott has long sought to unearth independent identities for the people of the West Indies and to explore the aftereffects of colonization. To do so, Walcott employs a rich mixture of images and language, particularly in his most famous play, Dream on Monkey Mountain. As both poet and dramatist, his writing is a mélange—an appropriate approach given the mixture of cultures in the West Indies. He also uses language to explore his postcolonial concerns by mixing local tongues with English, highlighting the unique identities of West Indian people. In doing so, Walcott’s writing underscores the rich, unique, and complicated culture of the Caribbean.
- In 1959, Walcott founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, which seeks to promote works of West Indian theater.
- Though his writing style developed apart from Latin American literature, Walcott’s work has drawn many parallels to the magic realism movement.
- Walcott’s epic poem Omeros, a reimagining of the Odyssey, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.
- Walcott teaches at Boston University and cofounded in 1981 the Boston Playwright’s Theatre, which specializes in performing new plays.
- One of Walcott’s less successful ventures was cowriting the Broadway musical The Capeman with musician Paul Simon. The costly production was plagued by troubles and poor reviews, closing quickly after its premiere.
Derek (Alton) Walcott Criticism
Derek Walcott Criticism (Vol. 14)
Derek Walcott Criticism (Vol. 160)
Derek Walcott Criticism (Vol. 2)
Derek Walcott Criticism (Vol. 4)
Derek Walcott Criticism (Vol. 9)
From his earliest verse written at the age of eighteen, Walcott has drawn material from his own experience. The autobiographical aspect of Omeros becomes unavoidable, given the frequency with which he explicitly interjects his own persona. Furthermore, the primary subject of this poem is his native St. Lucian heritage: the rich Creole culture of his transplanted countrymen, the unfulfilled legacy of his father who died prematurely, and the all-embracing sea.
Derek and his twin brother Roderick were born to Warwick (a civil servant) and Alix Walcott (headmistress of a Methodist school) in the capital city of Castries on 23 January 1930. When the twins were about a year old, their artistically gifted father died suddenly, willing them his desire to capture the beauty of the island in the few poems and watercolors he left. Derek showed an early interest in both media. He took painting lessons from his father's friend Harold Simmons; and with a loan from his mother, privately published his first collection of verse, 25 Poems, which he sold on the streets of Castries.
After completing his secondary schooling at St. Mary's College under English and Irish Catholic teachers, Walcott accepted a Colonial Development Scholarship to earn his baccalaureate degree from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica in 1953. He taught briefly in Grenada and Jamaica before winning a Rockefeller fellowship to study theater in New York under Jose...
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Derek Walcott was born January 23, 1930, in the capital city of Castries on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia, a territory at that time under the dominance of Britain. While the official language of St. Lucia was English, Walcott grew up also speaking a French-English patois. Both of his grandfathers were white and both grandmothers were black. From the beginning, Walcott was, in terms of St. Lucia, a bit of an outsider. In a poor, Catholic country, his parents were middle class and Protestant: his mother was a teacher at a Methodist grammar school who worked in local theater, and his father was a civil servant by vocation and a fine artist and poet by avocation. Walcott's father died shortly after Derek and his twin brother were born. The Walcott home was filled with books, paintings, and recorded music. Walcott studied painting and published, at age fourteen, his first poem. At eighteen, Walcott borrowed $200 from his mother to publish his first book, 25 Poems. To pay back his mother, he sold copies of the book to his friends.
In his early years, Walcott was schooled on St. Lucia, but in 1950, he attended the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, getting his degree in 1953 but staying on one more year to study education. From 1954 to 1957, Walcott taught in Grenada, St. Lucia, and Jamaica, and wrote and produced plays along with his brother, Roderick. In 1954, Walcott married. Since then he has been married three times and has had...
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Derek Walcott was born on January 23, 1930, in Castries, St. Lucia, the West Indies. He and his twin brother, Roderick, were the sons of Warwick and Alix Walcott. Warwick Walcott, a painter, poet, and civil servant, died when the twins were one year old. The boys and their elder sister were raised by their mother, a teacher who also supported her family by working as a seamstress. In this middle-class Protestant family, literature and artistry were emphasized.
Like his father, Walcott wanted to become a painter. While he painted his whole life, Walcott's primary focus became words, in English, instead of images while a teenager. Attending St. Mary's College on St. Lucia, Walcott became a poet. Before entering the university, he self-published his first book of poetry at the age of eighteen, entitled 25 Poems. He borrowed the money to publish it from his mother, and made the money back by selling it himself.
In 1949, Walcott entered the University of the West Indies on Trinidad, from which he graduated in 1953 with a B.A. Even before graduation, Walcott began a teaching career, which he has continued to pursue on the secondary and university levels. While still a student, Walcott also began writing plays. His first was Henri Christophe (1951). In both his poetry and plays, Walcott often deals with the racial complexities of the West Indian islands and his own racial heritage. His two grandfathers were white, while both of his grandmothers were black and descendants of slaves.
Walcott's first successful play was The Sea at Dauphin (1954). This contributed in part to Walcott obtaining a Rockefeller Fellowship to study playwriting and directing in New York City from 1957 to 1958. Upon his return home to Trinidad, in 1959, Walcott founded the Trinidad Theater Workshop, which provided a forum for his plays. For the workshop, Walcott wrote his best-known play, Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967). Other significant titles of his include The Joker of Seville (1974) and O Babylon! (1976).
While Walcott continued to write plays, over the years he became better known for his poetry. His breakthrough collection was 1962's In a Green Night: Poems, 1948-1960, while another important volume was The Castaway and Other Poems (1965). In 1990, Walcott published his poetic masterpiece, Omerus, a 325-page epic poem which gives a Caribbean twist to Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. In 1992, Walcott won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his poetry, one of many honors he has received over his career.
Beginning in the early 1980s, Walcott split his time between teaching literature and creative writing at Boston-area universities and in Trinidad. Though the 1990s, Walcott continued to teach and write (including 1997's collection of poetry The Bounty and The Capeman: The Musical with Paul Simon). He also reestablished his work with the Trinidad Theater Workshop after a decade-long hiatus. Married three times, Walcott has a son and two daughters.