Derek Walcott was born in Castries, Saint Lucia, the West Indies, on January 23, 1930. His first published poem, “1944” appeared in The Voice of St. Lucia when he was fourteen years old, and consisted of forty-four lines of blank verse. By the age of nineteen, Walcott had self-published two volumes, Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos (Barbados Advocate, 1949) and 25 Poems (1948), exhibiting a wide range of influences, including William Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. He later attended the University of the West Indies, having received a Colonial Development and Welfare scholarship, and in 1951, he published the volume Poems.
In 1957, Walcott was awarded a fellowship by the Rockefeller Foundation to study the American theater. He published numerous collections of poetry in his lifetime, most recently The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948–2013 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014); White Egrets (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010); Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007); The Prodigal: A Poem (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004); and Tiepolo’s Hound (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000).
The founder of the Trinidad Theater Workshop, Walcott also wrote several plays produced throughout the United States: The Odyssey: A Stage Version (1992); The Isle is Full of Noises (1982); Remembrance and Pantomime (1980); The Joker of Seville and O Babylon! (1978); Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (1970); Three Plays: The Last Carnival; Beef, No Chicken; and A Branch of the Blue Nile (1969). His play Dream on Monkey Mountain won the Obie Award for distinguished foreign play of 1971. He founded Boston Playwrights’ Theatre at Boston University in 1981.
Walcott’s first collection of essays, What the Twilight Says (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), was published in 1998.
About Walcott’s work, the poet Joseph Brodsky said,
For almost forty years his throbbing and relentless lines kept arriving in the English language like tidal waves, coagulating into an archipelago of poems without which the map of modern literature would effectively match wallpaper. He gives us more than himself or “a world”; he gives us a sense of infinity embodied in the language.
Walcott’s honors include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the T. S. Eliot Prize, the Montale Prize, a Royal Society of Literature Award, and, in 1988, the Queen’s Medal for Poetry. In 1992, Walcott became the first Caribbean writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, and in 2015, he received the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He was an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
Derek Walcott died on March 17, 2017, in Saint Lucia.