Derek Walcott Biography

Derek Walcott Biography

Derek 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.

Facts and Trivia

  • 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.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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. Lucia Arts Guild in 1950, the same year in which Walcott was awarded a scholarship to pursue advanced education at the...

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Derek Walcott Biography

(World Poets and Poetry)

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 America, slavery and colonialism, exploitation and emancipation. Curiously, he even compartmentalizes his writing, stressing oral tales and folk language in his plays while suffusing most of his poems with an Elizabethan richness and Miltonic dignity of diction.

In Another Life Walcott has rendered an autobiographical narrative of his childhood and early career. This long narrative poem unfolds the evolution of a poet who will always consider himself “the divided child.” At school he was taught European art, history, and literature, but his mother...

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Derek Walcott Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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 in The Middle Passage (1962), “Nothing was created in the West Indies,” Walcott writes that “if there was nothing, there was everything to be made. With this prodigious ambition one began.” One begins the act of creativity, in naming and redefining, with “Adam’s task of giving things their names.” Further, the 1992 Nobel laureate for literature uses the Caribbean, which he describes as a vase made of pieces broken off from several cultures, as the brazen serpent of healing and restoration for a world plagued by racial and cultural lacerations. The Caribbean, therefore, becomes a bridge over troubled waters because “the glue . . . is a love that reassembles our African and Asiatic fragments.” Walcott’s works and his Nobel speech have urged the world to look on the Caribbean as “a house on the side of a country road . . . whose smell is the smell of refreshing possibility as well as survival.”

Derek Walcott Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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 also served to train him for the craft of poetry, and, as he asserts in an interview in Paris Review, “I have never separated the writing of poetry from prayer. I have grown up believing it is a vocation, a religious vocation.”

When Walcott was fourteen, his first poem was published in a newspaper. Four years later, in 1948, he sold his privately printed Twenty-five Poems(1948) on the streets to repay his mother, who had provided for printing costs. In 1950, his first significant play, Henri Christophe: A Chronicle (pr., pb. 1950), was produced by the St. Lucia Arts Guild. The play’s subject was Henri Christophe, who, with Toussaint-Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, led the only successful slave revolt in the Caribbean, resulting in the creation of the nation of Haiti. Also in 1950, Walcott, on a British Colonial Development Scholarship, left for the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. In 1951, his collection Poems was published. After receiving his B.A. in 1953, he moved to Trinidad, where he worked as a book reviewer, journalist, and art critic while continuing his work as a playwright and poet. In 1954, Walcott’s play The Sea at Dauphin (pr., pb. 1954) was produced. Also that year, he married Faye Althea Moston; the couple divorced in 1959. In 1957, he received a Rockefeller Fellowship, which took him in 1958 to New York City, where Drums and Colours (pr. 1958, pb. 1961) was...

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Derek Walcott Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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.

(The entire section is 95 words.)

Derek Walcott Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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...

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Derek Walcott Biography

(Epics for Students)

From his earliest verse written at the age of eighteen, Walcott has drawn material from his own experience. The autobiographical aspect of...

(The entire section is 554 words.)

Derek Walcott Biography

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 404 words.)

Derek Walcott Biography

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)
Derek Walcott Published by Gale Cengage

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...

(The entire section is 468 words.)