Derek Alton Walcott is a Nobel Prize winning poet and playwright. He was born in January 1930 in Saint Lucia, West Indies. He is of African and European descent. His father died while his mother was pregnant with him and his twin brother Roderick. He has an older sister named Pamela. Walcott’s father had been a painter and poet while his mother was a teacher. She was very fond of poetry and recited poetry to her children from a young age, which influenced Derek to write his own. Walcott trained as a painter with the famous artist Harold Simmons, and also as a writer. His work was influenced by poets such as T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound. He published his first poem at the age of 14 in a local newspaper titled “The Voice of St Lucia”. His poetry was condemned by the local Catholic Church as being “Metodist inspired”.
By the age of 19, Derek Walcott had published his first book of poems using funds that his mother helped him raise. She could not afford the sum of $200 that was required but she managed to arrange it in order to promote her son’s work. Walcott sold the book to family and friends and managed to recover the investment. He also found support from other poets such as Frank Collymore who found his work to be promising. Walcott was awarded a scholarship to study poetry and literature at the University College of West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
After graduating from college, he moved to Trinidad where he established the Trinidad Theatre Workshop. He continued to write and publish stories and plays, including “In a Green Night: Poems 1948–1960” and “Dream on Monkey Mountain” which was adapted for television by NBC and an off-Broadway play by Negro Ensemble Company. The production won an Obie Award for Best Foreign Play. Walcott also won an Order of the British Empire from the British Government. He was offered a teaching position by Boston University in the United States. He moved there to teach, where he also established the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre in 1981. He taught literature and writing courses there for over twenty years, regularly writing and publishing his own work as well. He was also awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in the U.S.
Some of his most famous works include the poem “Omeros” published in 1990, which was generally acclaimed to be one of the best books of 1990 by forums such as the Washington Post and The New York Times Book Review. In 1992, Walcott was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He also won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awardfor Lifetime Achievement in 2004. In 2009, Walcott was the favorite candidate for the position of Oxford Professor of Poetry, but he withdrew after a sexual harassment scandal ensued, although many of his colleagues supported him.
Derek Walcott has published dozens of poems, plays and essays during his career, including poems such as “The Castaway” and plays such as “Pantomime”. His writing is strongly influenced by his Caribbean origins and he is said to be an authority on the culture. He has received several awards and accolades such as the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, the T. S. Eliot Prize and an honorary doctorate from the University of Essex. He is currently a Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom.