This Day In Literary History
On January 23rd, 1930, the famous Caribbean writer Derek Walcott was born in Castries, Saint Lucia. His mother was a teacher who often recited poetry around the house. His father was an artist and poet who died before Derek and his twin brother Roderick were born.
Derek Walcott first intended to become an artist like his father, training with painter Harold Simmons. But he soon fell in love with literature and writing became his main passion. He was twelve years old when his first published poem appeared in a newspaper.
The poem, inspired by both his Methodist faith and the works of John Milton, prompted a Catholic priest to write an angry letter to the editor accusing Walcott of blasphemy. The letter was published in the newspaper, but that failed to discourage the young poet.
By 1949, Walcott, then nineteen years old, had self-published his first two poetry collections, 25 Poems (1948) and Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos (1949). He had borrowed the money from his mother, and, as he predicted, all the copies sold out.
These early poetry collections caught the eye of noted Barbadian poet Frank Collymore, who gave them rave reviews and helped promote them. Walcott then won a scholarship to the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.
After graduating, Walcott moved to the Island of Trinidad, where he became a teacher, a literary critic, and a journalist. He also founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, where he remains on the Board of Directors.
In 1962, his classic poetry collection In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960 brought him international fame. In it, he explored the colonial and post-colonial history of the Caribbean - perfect metaphors for the turbulent social and political changes taking place around the world.
Walcott also earned international recognition for his classic play Dream on Monkey Mountain (1970), which was produced by NBC-TV the year it was written. The following year, the play was produced off-Broadway by the Negro Ensemble Company and won an Obie Award.
It told the story of Felix Hobain, a drunken hermit taken to jail to sober up after causing a ruckus at the market. Suffering from the DTs and hallucinating, he has a prophetic dream. Believing himself to be a healer, he wakes up sober and determined to heal the sick and lead his people.
In 1972, Walcott won the OBE (Order of the British Empire) Award and was hired to teach at Boston University. Nine years later, he founded the Boston Playwrights' Theatre and received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
Walcott would teach at Boston University for over twenty years. When he wasn't in the classroom, he wrote and published new plays and poetry collections. His classic Homeric epic poem Omeros, published in 1990, is considered his masterpiece.
Most of the poem takes place in the author's native Saint Lucia. The non-linear narrative includes an imagined voyage aboard a slave ship from Africa to the Americas. In Book Five, the author relates his own experiences traveling to world cities such as London, Dublin, Rome, Lisbon, and Toronto.
In writing Omeros, Walcott employed a three-line format similar to the terza rima used by Dante in The Divine Comedy, but Omeros is largely Homeric, written mostly in hexameter, which Homer used in The Iliad, and containing character names such as Achille, Helen, and Hector.
Two years after the publication of Omeros, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, which made him the first Caribbean writer to win a Nobel Prize. He also served as scholar-in-residence at the University of Alberta and professor of poetry at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom.
Derek Walcott wrote over twenty poetry collections and two dozen plays. His final poetry collection, The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948–2013, was published in 2014; his final play, O Starry Starry Night, came out the same year. He died in March of 2017 at the age of 87.
Quote Of The Day
"The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other's welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own images from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life." - Derek Walcott
Today's video features Derek Walcott being interviewed before a live audience at a theater in Toronto. Enjoy!