On 17th March, 2017 Saint Lucia lost one of her most accomplished sons. The world joined us in mourning for Sir Derek Alton Walcott, the internationally-renowned poet and playwright who passed away aged 87. His legacy is an abundance of work that will continue to delight, impress and astound with its depth of thought, skill of communication and effect on the mind, heart and soul.

Sir Derek, a native of Castries, was born to compose words. His first collection of poems was published when he was 18 years old. The following year he won a scholarship and left Saint Lucia to study at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. After graduation he moved to Trinidad and worked as a theatre and art critic, teacher and journalist, eventually founding the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1959.

Derek Walcott’s output was prolific and continued to the year before his death. In addition to penning large quantities of verse, he wrote more than 25 plays, the most famous being ‘Dream on Monkey Mountain’ which was broadcast on NBC in the United States in 1970.

In 1981 Sir Derek took up a post at Boston University teaching literature and writing. That same year he founded the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and received the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (“genius award”). He published poems and plays with regularity, and in 1988 was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. 

‘Omeros’ – considered by many as Sir Derek’s major achievement – was published in 1990 and won him the Nobel Prize in Literature two years later. This epic poem is a Caribbean-style nod to Homer and some of his major characters from ‘The Iliad’. Set mainly in Saint Lucia, this island that Sir Derek loved passionately, the work includes some of his oft-visited themes of colonialism and its legacy, sometimes damaging, in the islands, and the fragmentation of Caribbean identity. The Nobel committee described ‘Omeros’ as “a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment”.

In 2009 Walcott began a three-year distinguished scholar-in-residence position at the University of Alberta, Canada. In 2010 he became Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex, England. 

Sir Derek’s last official public appearance was on 17th December, 2016 when he recited poetry on stage with the artist Peter Doig for the launch of their collaboration ‘Morning, Paramin’. The event took place at The Yard, on the premises of Star Publishing where this magazine, Tropical Traveller, is written and published.

Sir Derek loved this island of his birth and derived joy from being labelled “a Caribbean writer”.  Saint Lucia is proud of this son of our soil: In 1993 the public square and park in Castries, formerly Columbus Square, was renamed Derek Walcott Square. 

The Saint Lucia National Trust acquired the childhood home of Derek Walcott and his twin brother Roderick, also a successful playwright. The house at 17 Chaussee Road, Castries was renovated and Sir Derek was present at the official opening of Walcott House on 24th January, 2016.

As a part of Saint Lucia’s February 2016 Independence Day celebrations, Derek Walcott was appointed one of the first knights of the Order of Saint Lucia, and bestowed with the title “Sir”. This was the first time in the Order’s history that the Queen herself approved the awarding of the grades of Knight and Dame.

Such was the respect for Sir Derek by the government and people of Saint Lucia that he was accorded a state funeral, an honour normally reserved for heads of state and government, and on 25th March, 2017 in Castries Cathedral we bade a formal farewell to this giant of the literary world. 

Sir Derek loved the beauty of Saint Lucia – The Land, The People, The Light (our Nation’s motto) plus her people, our sunshine, heat and rain, the flora, fauna, sights, sounds and smells. He was a talented painter and enjoyed depicting local scenes in his artwork. He was vehemently and vocally opposed to desecration of our scenery, for example by hotel developments, and spoke out about “the rage I have, the anger that I have” at the disfigurement of the landscape. Even when living abroad, Sir Derek made frequent visits back to Saint Lucia. He spent his final years here and passed away at his home in Cap Estate, in the land that gave him birth. 

To purchase copies of Derek Walcott’s works, contact Star Publishing: 450 7827.