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Derek Walcott dies

Melissa Doughty Saturday, March 18 2017

ACCOLADES to a man, who represented the entire Caribbean, rolled in as news of his death spread throughout the country and the wider world. Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, 87, died yesterday at his home in Cap Estate, St Lucia after an illness. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.

Many whom Walcott touched through the theatre, academic spaces and via his poetry and plays were saddened to hear of his passing. Much like his life’s work, his death made international headlines.

The St Lucian Government, in a release, stated it is in discussions with the Walcott family regarding funeral arrangements and if the relations are desirous of a state funeral for him. Prime Minister Allan Chastanet in a release said, “Today is a very historical day with the passing of Sir Derek Walcott.

“He is a household name in St Lucia. When everyone speaks about excellence and describes Saint Lucia with any form of superlative, clearly the two names that stand tall is that of Sir Arthur Lewis and Sir Derek Walcott. It has become customary for us to see Sir Derek and know that he was there all the time. He made himself so available and participated in so many national events here and continued to fly the flag very high.” Chastanet added Walcott was a true Caribbean patron.

TT MOURNS In response to his passing, the TT Government through Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, Dr Nyan Gadsby Dolly said, “Walcott gave us in his work a vision of ourselves as Caribbean people in a shared space, unique in the world, worthy of celebration. While we thank Walcott for the gifts he has given us, we extend our condolences to his immediate family, to his extended family in the arts, to St Lucia, and to the World.” Walcott received numerous awards through his lifetime, the Cholmondeley Award, Obie Award for best foreign Play, Officer of the Order of the British Empire, MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, the Arts Council of Wales International Writers Prize, the Nobel Prize in Literature among others.

But to TT – which honoured the playwright and poet with the Trinity Cross in 1993 – Walcott’s genius holds great significance.

He shared over 20 years of his life with TT. Having been married three times, his second marriage to Trinidadian Margaret Walcott bore two daughters, Anna Walcott- Hardy and Elizabeth Walcott- Hackshaw.

His creation and development of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1959 with other notables, Errol Jones and Stanley Marshall, laid the foundation for the modern TT theatre landscape.

DEREK UNSURPASSED Albert Laveau, the theatre’s artistic director, yesterday told Newsday, “Derek’s work in Trinidad is unsurpassed starting up from the time in 1958 when he was invited to present a production on marking the start of the West Indies Federation.” He recalled Walcott’s response to a statement made by writer VS Naipaul about the failed Federation which gave birth to one of his more cited quotes, “Where nothing exists, everything was possible.” Laveau recalled he met Walcott in 1962 when he came to the Little Carib Theatre. He also recalled when TT was being shunned in the early 60s after the break-up of the federation and, “to name anything TT was the kiss of death.

Nothing made in Trinidad was considered to be of any worth.” “I remember going down in the basement when we were preparing for the play Ti-Jean and Derek had a mock-up of the programme.

“He had on top of it Trinidad Theatre Workshop and I said wow, Trinidad Theatre Workshop and he said yes I am naming it Trinidad Theatre Workshop.

Anybody have a problem with that?” Similarly, actor and musician Wendell Manwarren, said of his passing, it was a great loss to the world and particularly the region.

He said he first met him when shortly after he had won the Nobel prize. As a young actor and he was intimidated by him. But after Walcott saw his acting, he offered him his choicest roles, he said.

“He revived all of his big classic plays. Myself and a generation of new actors, singers and dancers got to be a part of that. We will always be eternally grateful for that.

It shaped us and made us better performers.”

A GENEROUS SOUL For Manwarren, his generosity and genius were one and the same.

Painter Jackie Hinkson also felt the generosity of Walcott. He, too, described Walcott’s passing as a great loss. He said he owed Walcott a great debt because he was extremely generous to him. Walcott’s writing about art contributed a great deal to the craft in TT.

“When it comes to talking and writing about art he has contributed so much since the 1960s and with such honesty and a vast knowledge of painting. That it is astonishing to me that someone who was such a brilliant writing could have had, at the same time, such an in-depth knowledge of painting and could be so willing to share that knowledge in an honest and sometimes brutal way,” he said.

For actor Nigel Scott, an early member of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, it heartened him to hear Walcott’s passing being major headlines on all BBC news sites.

Scott described Walcott not only as a mentor and teacher but as a friend who will be deeply missed not only by him but the Caribbean he loved.

After leaving Trinidad, Walcott spent his latter years in St Lucia with partner, Sigrid Nama. He leaves to mourn daughters, Anna and Elizabeth, son, Peter and Nama. Major global news sites including the BBC, CNN and others all reported on Walcott’s passing yesterday.


Born: 23 January 1930 (Castries, St Lucia)

Died: 17 March 2017 (Cap Estate, St Lucia)

Both Walcott’s grandmothers were descendants of slaves. His father, a Bohemian watercolourist, died when Derek and his twin brother Roderick, were only a few years old. His mother ran the town’s Methodist school. After studying at St Mary’s College in his native island and at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, in 1953 Walcott moved to Trinidad, where he has worked as theatre and art critic.

At the age of 18, he made his debut with 25 Poems, but his breakthrough came with the collection of poems, In a Green Night (1962). In 1959, he founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop which produced many of his early plays. For many years, he has divided his time between Trinidad, where he has his home as a writer, and taught at Boston University, where he taught literature and creative writing.

In 2010 he became Professor of Poetry at Esex University. In 2016 he became on of the first Knights of the Order of St Lucia

Awards and Honours

1969 Cholmondeley Award

1971 Obie Award for Best Foreign

Play (for Dream on Monkey Mountain)

1972 Officer of the Order of the British Empire

1981 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (“genius award”)

1988 Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry

1990 Arts Council of Wales International Writers Prize

1990 W. H. Smith Literary Award (for poetry Omeros)

1992 Nobel Prize in Literature

1993 Trinity Cross (Now known as Order of TT)

2004 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement

2008 Honorary doctorate from the University of Essex

2011 T. S. Eliot Prize (for poetry collection White Egrets)

2011 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature (for White Egrets)

2015 Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry Lifetime Recognition Award

2016 Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Lucia

(Source: Wikipedia)

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