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.”