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Honoring Derek Walcott

The West Indian poet and playwright Derek Walcott was honored at the National Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Saturday, March 29.

In a program nearly on the eve of National Poetry Month, celebrated throughout April, Walcott, a Nobel laureate, received the W. E. B. Du Bois Award for 2014 at the 12th national NBWC sponsored by the Center for Black Literature at the college.

“The awarding of the W.E.B. DuBois to Derek Walcott at the 12th National Black Writers Conference reflects our praise and tribute to a man whose literary voice has impacted all parts of the African diaspora,” said Brenda M. Greene, Ph.D., executive director for the Center for Black Literature. “Mr. Walcott’s presence was one of the heights of the conference.”

Dr. Greene said the conference was also honored to have him participate the previous day in a program there, “A Conversation with Derek Walcott: The Search for Self in Caribbean Literature: Past, Present, and Future.” He was joined by the Trinidadian poet Mervyn Taylor and St. Lucian poet and producer Adrian Augier. The conversation focused on Caribbean literature, especially Walcott’s writing, exploring themes of identity, memory, belonging and spirituality.

“Derek Walcott, from his place as a St. Lucian poet, playwright, and painter, writes of the world, of love, of the legacy of colonialism in his country, of the complexity of identity and of the search for self in language layered with images and metaphors that capture our unspoken desires, our questions, our rages, our paradoxes and our conflicts,” said Dr. Greene, who is also chair of the Department of English.

Walcott, born in 1930 in Saint Lucia, received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature. Walcott’s works include the Homeric epic poem, Omeros (1990), which many critics view as his crowning achievement. In addition to the Nobel,  he has won many literary awards including an Obie Award in 1971 for his play “Dream on Monkey Mountain,” a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, the Queen’s Medal for Poetry, and the 2011 T. S. Eliot Prize for his book of poetry, White Egrets.

Born and raised in Castries, Saint Lucia, he has a twin brother, playwright Roderick Walcott. Their father died while their mother was pregnant with them. Walcott trained to be a painter before turning to writing and published his first poems as a teenager. He graduated from the University College of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, and later moved to Trinidad and eventually to the United States after being hired as a teacher at Boston University. He taught there for more than two decades before retiring in 2007. Two years later, he was appointed scholar-in-residence at the University of Alberta and the following year became professor of poetry at the University of Essex.

To read more about him, see Conversations With Derek Walcott, available on  It is a part of a series of books from the University of Mississippi Press that compile interviews with  a diverse spectrum of poets and writers, including Rita Dove, Audre Lorde, Elizabeth Bishop, Nikki Giovanni, Ishmael Reed, Yusef Komunyakaa and Robert Penn Warren.

Walcott is also one of the essayists in Fourteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, by the University of Mississippi Press.  and is featured in African-American Writers: Portraits and Visions.

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