PRESS RELEASE – Hon. Derek Alton Walcott, SLC, OBE, OCC breathed his last breath in his native Saint Lucia on Friday March 17 at age 87.
He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992, becoming the second Saint Lucian to win a Nobel Prize after Sir Arthur Lewis shared the joint Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979 with an American colleague.
Walcott, a prolific Caribbean poet, won the Nobel Prize for his phenomenal work “Omeros”, a 365-page poem.
He established his identity as a poet, playwright, writer and artist, first in Trinidad & Tobago in the first half of the 20th Century, where he also founded the legendary Trinidad Theatre Workshop, then in Saint Lucia before migrating to the USA and the UK.
Walcott’s various works reflected Saint Lucian and Caribbean themes in both of the island’s official languages (English and Kweyol) and he penned many poems that became collections, as well as plays that continue to be produced at home and abroad.
Walcott did court controversy after winning the Nobel Prize: He turned down a national offer of a Knighthood by the Queen in the National Independence Awards in 1993 — and only accepted the indigenous version, Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Lucia, in 2016.
After long service as an lecturer in literature in the USA, Walcott was later appointed to Chair a top literary post at University of Essex in England. In that position, he unexpectedly turned down an offer of appointment as Chair of a more prestigious British literary order at another top-class UK university after English opponents launched a public campaign questioning his suitability.
Walcott was quite sick of late. Confined to a wheelchair for the past couple years, he nonetheless last year attended the official opening of Walcott Place, national museum dedicated to the man and his works at the home he grew-up in, at the corner of Grass Street and Chaussee Road in the island’s capital city, Castries.
Busts of Walcott and Lewis are erected in the former ‘Columbus Square’ that was renamed after him.
Nobel Laureate Week is also a staple item on Saint Lucia’s national calendar, with activities planned around January 23, which is the birthday of both laureates, though born in different years.
Derek Walcott received several international, regional and national awards before being honored as a Knight Commander of the Saint Lucia Cross (KCSL) last year, “For exceptional and outstanding service of national importance to Saint Lucia.” They included: The Saint Lucia Cross (SLC), the Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC) and the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
But Saint Lucia’s national poet never lived to see the fulfillment of a promise to develop a Foundation in his name on Rat Island, a small islet off the George F.L. Charles airport at Vigie in Castries, the Saint Lucia capital. The Rat Island Foundation was established 24 years ago, but never got off the ground.
Meanwhile, the Caribbean and the world continue to mistakenly claim that Walcott was “the only Caribbean person” to have won a Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Nobel Prize for Literature for 1960 was won by Saint-John Perse, a native of Guadeloupe, one of France’s colonial ‘Antilles’ and ‘Overseas Departments’ in the Caribbean. As Perse belonged to a French colony at the time, according to Nobel rules, he is officially registered as having won for ‘France’.
When Walcott won in 1992, he joined Perse and five Nobel Literature Prizewinners from Latin America: Gabriel Mistral of Chile (1945), Miguel Angel Asturias of Guatemala (1967), Pablo Neruda of Chile (1971), Gabriel Marca Marquez of Colombia (1982) and Octavio Paz of Mexico (1990).
Sir Arthur was indeed the first of two Saint Lucia-born Nobel Laureates. But as he was resident in and worked from Britain when he won, he is officially registered as having won for ‘UK’.
It is also not widely acknowledged that Sir Arthur’s 1997 Nobel Prize was shared jointly with US economist Theodore W. S. Schultz for their “Analyses of economic processes in developing countries”.
The USA has won over 43 of the Nobel Prizes for Economics awarded since 1969 when it was first introduced.
Other Nobel Prizes are for: Chemistry, Medicine, Physics and Physiology, Economics, Literature and Peace.
The Alfred B. Nobel Prizes are widely regarded as the world’s most prestigious awards for intellectual achievement.
The prizes are awarded annually from a fund bequeathed for that purpose in his 1895 Last Will and Testament by the Swedish inventor and industrialist Alfred Bernhard Nobel, whose many discoveries included the dynamite.
The Nobel Prizes have been awarded annually since 1901 and were only not awarded during the First and Second World Wars (1914-18 and 1939-45).
Nobel Prizes are announced in mid-October and awarded in December each year in Stockholm and Oslo.
A cash award of SEK 10 million (about US $1.5 million), a personal diploma and a commemorative medal are given for each prize category.
But Walcott always dispelled the claim at home that he was “a millionaire”, pointing out that at the time he won the prize, the Swedish currency (SEK) was much devalued against the US dollar.
Derek’s twin brother Roddy, also a playwright, died several years ago in Canada.
Saint Lucia’s second Nobel Laureate leaves to mourn his son Peter in Saint Lucia, two daughters Elizabeth and Anna in Trinidad & Tobago and his partner for over three decades, Sigrid Nama.
Derek A. Walcott will receive an Official Funeral with full National Honours.