March 17 (UPI) — Derek Walcott, the Nobel laureate poet whose vivid work described his home on the Caribbean island St. Lucia, died Friday, his publisher said. He was 87.
His publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, did not offer the cause of death but said Walcott had been in failing health for some time.
Walcott’s canon spanned all forms of poetry, from intimate limericks describing St. Lucia’s pure white sand beaches to an epic 300-page reimagining of The Odyssey in a Caribbean landscape.
Most of all, Walcott’s lush poetic verses offered grand and unapologetic views into what was a personal life of contradictions. Walcott was born of biracial parents on St. Lucia, a tiny Caribbean island ruled by colonialist Britain where he was raised to speak English despite the island’s predominant tongue, French Creole. He was raised as a Methodist on the predominantly Roman Catholic island.
Walcott’s complicated personal narrative mirrored that of the West Indies itself, where a mishmash of cultural imports have created a diverse, often complicated society ensconced in tropical paradise.
Walcott was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992, two years after he published his epic Omeros, regarded by critics as his most defining work. It substituted humble Caribbean fishermen and a Jamaican taxi driver for Homer’s iconic characters attempting to tame the sea.
Upon awarding him the prize, the Nobel Committee said: “In his literary works Walcott has laid a course for his own cultural environment, but through them he speaks to each and every one of us. In him, West Indian culture has found its great poet.”
When he was an infant, Walcott’s father died, leaving him to be raised solely by his mother, a schoolteacher. His childhood education was Anglo-centric, with an emphasis on English literature.
Walcott showed early flourishes of his life as a poet. His first poem was published in a local newspaper at age 14. As an 18-year-old he self-published his first book of poetry. His 1962 book In Green Light drew his first international interest, and it was the first book he had published outside St. Lucia.
Walcott went on to publish dozens of books and six plays during his career.
Walcott married three times, each ending in divorce. He is survived by his longtime companion Sigrid Noma, a son, two daughters and several grandchildren.