Poetry Foundation “Derek Walcott” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/derek-walcott
“Derek Walcott” https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/derek-walcott
Stephen Moss*1 “Derek Walcott: 'The Oxford poetry job would have been too much work'” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/03/derek-walcott-interview
Richard Lea “Nobel laureate, poet and playwright Derek Walcott dead, aged 87” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/17/nobel-laureate-poet-and-playwright-derek-walcott-dead-aged-87
Born on Saint Lucia in 1930, Walcott’s ancestry wove together the major strands of Caribbean history, an inheritance he described famously in a poem from 1980’s The Star-Apple Kingdom as having “Dutch, nigger, and English in me, / and either I’m nobody, or I’m a / nation”. Both of his grandmothers were said to have been descended from slaves, but his father, who died when Walcott was only a year old, was a painter, and his mother the headmistress of a methodist school - enough to ensure that Walcott received what he called in the same poem a “sound colonial education”. He published his first collection of poems – funded by his mother – at the age of 19. A year later, in 1950, he staged his first play and went to study English literature, French and Latin at the newly established University College of the West Indies in Jamaica.
After graduating in 1953 he moved to Trinidad, an island recently vacated by VS Naipaul, a contemporary of Walcott’s whose career advanced in eerie synchronicity – from early dreams of a life in literature to Nobel success. Naipaul was first to find a London publisher, Walcott first to find favour with the Swedish Academy - but their contrasting approach to the legacy of empire soured their early friendship*3, igniting a feud which reached its apogee when Walcott read out an attack in verse at the 2008 Calabash festival in Jamaica: “I have been bitten, I must avoid infection / Or else I’ll be as dead as Naipaul’s fiction.”*4
Walcott continued his project to make the western canon his own, summoning up the spirits of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Yeats and Eliot in a series of collections which explored his position “between the Greek and African pantheon”. His decision to write mostly in standard English brought attacks from the Black Power movement in the 1970s, which Walcott answered in the voice of a mulatto sea-dog in The Star-Apple Kingdom: “I have no nation now but the imagination./ After the white man, the niggers didn’t want me/ when the power swing to their side./ The first chain my hands and apologize, ‘History’ / the next said I wasn’t black enough for their pride.” His 1990 epic, Omeros, tackled the ghost of Homer head on, relocating Achilles, Helen and Philoctetes among the island fishermen of the West Indies.
Anita Sethi and Lawrence Scott “Derek Walcott obituary” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/17/derek-walcott-obituary
Tom Vitale “Derek Walcott, Who Wrote Of Caribbean Beauty And Bondage, Dies At 87” http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/17/511608932/derek-walcott-who-wrote-of-caribbean-beauty-and-bondage-dies-at-87
“Derek Walcott: St Lucia's Nobel laureate poet dies” http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-39307148
*3:See Nicholas Laughlin “The distraction of Walcott vs Naipaul” https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2008/jun/05/wallcottofsilence
*4:See Daniel Trilling “Rhyme and punishment for Naipaul” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/jun/01/poetry.news