A poet, painter and playwright, Derek Walcott was born in 1930 in Castries in St Lucia, a Caribbean island and an ex-British colony. He was educated at St Mary’s College in his home town, and then at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. Here he studied to write French, Latin and Spanish.
He began to write poetry when he was till a student, and already in 1948 he published a collection of poems, remarkable for their rhythn and fresh imagery. In 1953 Walcott moved to Trinidad, where he worked as a theatre and art critic and wrote for the local newspaper; 1958-59 he was in New york where he studied drama, and in 1959 he founded the Trinidad Theatre, which produced many of his early plays. His recognistion as a poet came in 1962, with In a Green Night. Among his best-known works it is worth remembering The Castaway (1965), which draws on the figure of Robinson Crusoe, and The Gulf (1969); both refer to his feelings of artistic isolation and alienation. His most ambitious work is the epic poem Omero (1990), which recalls Homer’s poems and places the West Indies in the role of the Greek islands, and simple Caribbean fishermen substitute the gods and heroic warriors of the Greek poems; the poem deals with the sufferings of exile and Caribbean life.
Though poetry appears to be his greatest passion, Walcott has written a series of plays; among them it is worth remembering Ti-Jean and his brothers (1957) and Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967), where he makes effective use of native dialect. Remembrance (1977) and Pantomime (1978) are both concerned with the division revolution. In Pantomime, in particular, he revisits the Robinson Crusoe story again in political commitment and there is a black hotel servant who plays Crusoe, while employer is Friday. This highlights the difficult relationship between black and white, master and slave, coloniser and colonised.
Walcott was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992. Since then, he has continued to write prolifically: The Bounty, another epic poem, appeared in 1997, and Tiepolo’s Hound, a collection of poems, in 2000.
He divides his time between Trinidad and Boston University, where he teaches literature and creative writing.