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Derek Walcott (1930 - 2017)

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Derek Walcott (1930 - 2017)

Derek Walcott, a native of St. Lucia who won a Nobel prize for poetry about the Caribbean, died on Friday, March 17, 2017, following a period of ill health. He was 87.

Born in Castries, Saint Lucia, on January 23, 1930, Walcott grew up with mother who regularly recited poetry around the house. His father, who died before his birth, had been an artist and a poet. Walcott was a twin, and his brother, Roderick Walcott, became a playwright.

At only 14, a local newspaper printed one of Walcott’s poems, his first published work. Later in his teens, he self-published two collections of poetry. After studying at Jamaica’s University of the West Indies, Walcott moved to Trinidad, supporting himself as a journalist and teacher while writing poetry.

Walcott’s poems painted powerful images of his Caribbean home and evoked the sound of its spoken languages. His poems were often spiritual and also dealt with the fraught project of building an identity in the post-colonial Caribbean. His 1990 epic poem, “Omeros,” which loosely transplants The Iliad into 20th century St. Lucia, is often cited as his greatest work.

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On writing, Walcott told “The Paris Review” that “between the beginning and the ending and the actual composition that goes on, there is a kind of trance that you hope to enter where every aspect of your intellect is functioning simultaneously for the progress of the composition. But there is no way you can induce that trance.”  On being a pioneer of Caribbean literature, he said “that what we were deprived of was also our privilege. There was a great joy in making a world that so far, up to then, had been undefined.”

Walcott taught literature and writing at Boston University for more than 20 years, and was a Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex from 2010-13. In addition to his 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, Walcott received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant and an Obie Award. Elizabeth II made him an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1972, and in 2016, a Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Lucia.

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