By Ernie Seon
CMC Caribbean Correspondent
CASTRIES, St. Lucia, March 17, 2017 (CMC) – The St. Lucia-born poet and playwright, Sir Derek Alton Walcott, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992, and had the distinction of bringing the history and culture of the Caribbean people to the attention of a global community, died yesterday. He was 87.
Sir Derek was one of two St. Lucians to have received the prestigious Nobel Prize, following Sir Arthur Lewis, who won the award for economics in 1979.
“When everyone speaks about excellence in St. Lucia and describe St. Lucia with any kind of superlatives, clearly the two names that stand tall in St. Lucia’s history are those of Sir Arthur Lewis and Sir Derek Walcott,” said Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet, as he led the island in paying tribute to the gifted, cultural icon.
Sir Derek died at his home at Cap Estate, north of here, had been ailing for some time and had been on a dialysis machine, a family source said.
He had recently been released from hospital and passed away peacefully with his family at his bedside.
“While he and I may not have agreed on everything, he was always very consistent and very emotional about being Caribbean and being original,” Chastanet said, describing Sir Derek as someone who always participated in many national events.
“He continued to fly the flag real high,” Chastanet said, adding “we can now sit back and reflect on his achievements which are so incredible.”
The St. Lucia government has ordered all fly flags to be flown at half mast, at least until Tuesday.
“I am in discussion with his wife, his partner, Sigrid, and also in discussion with the artistic community, here in St. Lucia, of what other tributes we can pay to this icon of a man,” Chastanet said.
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque, tweeted that Walcott was “a Caribbean treasure”, while the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) said that Walcott’s “soul will forever live on through his body of award-winning literary works”.
OECS Chairman and St. Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister, Dr. Timothy Harris, said that Walcott was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1992 “for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment.
“Sir Walcott’s poetry was a reflection of his deep commitment to his country and the Caribbean, as it masterfully captured the physical beauty of his milieu. It was this idyllic social environment that he gravitated towards throughout his life, choosing to spend much of his time in his homeland of St. Lucia, where he died today at the age of 87,” he said.
Dominica-born playwright, Dr. Alwyn Bully, whose theatre company had produced many of Walcott’s plays, described him “as one of the greatest writers of the world”.
“I think he also had the distinction of bringing the history and culture of the Caribbean people to the attention of literacy circles worldwide, Bully said, adding that Walcott had encouraged many other playwrights.
“He will be solely missed by the entire Caribbean, but his work will endure forever,” Bully added.
The international media reported yesterday, that Walcott’s monumental poetry, including 1973’s verse autobiography, Another Life, and his Caribbean reimagining of The Odyssey, 1990’s Omeros, “secured him an international reputation, which gained him the Nobel Prize in 1992.”
But this was matched by a theatrical career, conducted mostly in the islands of his birth, as a director and writer with more than 80 plays to his credit.
He won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry in 2011. His winning collection for the TS Eliot Prize, White Egrets, was called “a moving, risk-taking and technically flawless book by a great poet” by the judges.
“The arts fraternity, St. Lucia and the world has lost one of its noted literary icons, Sir Derek Walcott,” the Cultural Development Foundation (CDF) here, said in a statement, noting that “he was very vocal about the island’s culture and heritage and its preservation, and his love for Saint Lucia and the Caribbean was evident in his numerous mentions of “home” in his work.
Walcott was born on January 23, 1930 in the capital, Castries, and he had acknowledged that the experience of growing up on the isolated volcanic island, an ex-British colony, has had a strong influence on Walcott’s life and work.
Both his grandmothers were said to have been the descendants of slaves. His father, a Bohemian watercolourist, died when Sir 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 here and at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Jamaica, Walcott moved, in 1953, to Trinidad, where he 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 had his home as a writer, and Boston University, where he taught literature and creative writing.
His illustrious body of work includes: Three Plays — The Last Carnival, Beef No Chicken and A Branch of the Blue Nile (1969); Dream on Monkey Mountain and other plays (1970), The Joker of Seville and O Babylon! (1978), Remembrance and Pantomime (1980), The Isle is Full of Noises (1982), Omeros (1990) and The Odyssey: A Stage Version (1992).
Walcott received numerous awards, including a Royal Society of Literature Award, the Queen’s medal of Poetry and a MacArthur Foundation genius award. In 2016, as part of Independence celebrations, he was given the title of “Sir”, one of the first to be knighted under the Order of St. Lucia.
Sir Derek Walcott, is survived by three children Peter, Elizabeth, and Anna. Funeral arrangements have not yet been disclosed.