Derek (Alton) Walcott 1930–
West Indian poet, dramatist, and critic.
Walcott's writing career began at age eighteen, with the publication of Twenty-five Poems. Since then, in addition to being considered a major modern poet, he has become a respected playwright and is regarded as a voice of West Indian culture and thought. His poems and plays have won many awards, among them an Obie in 1971 for his play Dream on Monkey Mountain.
His recurrent themes include the search for identity—both that of the West Indies and his own within it, isolation and estrangement, particularly of the artist, and the divisive elements in the social and personal self. These ideas accommodate Walcott's poetic vision in his four principal collections, In a Green Night, The Castaway, Another Life, and The Gulf, the last of which deals with the literal and figurative divisions of history, race, class, and language. One of the primary characterizations Walcott uses is that of the islander as Robinson Crusoe, as the New World Adam, as the Castaway, to whom is left a despoiled Eden in the aftermath of colonialism, from which he must create a new West Indian World.
Walcott's loyalty to both his English and his African backgrounds provides the major tension of his work. His written language is split between literary English in the poems and island patois in the plays, though in later efforts the two styles have tended to merge into one that uses more natural speech and rhythm patterns, and a more direct, open mode of expression. Classical influences, while still in evidence, are used more sparingly.
Walcott has been criticized for his interpretation of island experiences through European literary traditions and for his avoidance of definitive statements about his racial and political loyalties. Walcott, however, believes that his mixed heritage has enabled him to put personal experiences into universal contexts. Because of this, he is both at home and displaced wherever he goes, a condition which he elaborates upon in his recent The Fortunate Traveller.
(See also CLC, Vols. 2, 4, 9, 14; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 89-92; and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1981.)