Derek Walcott: A Creator and Changer of Caribbean Literature – Pt 1 | Entertainment
(Part 1 of an article based on an interview with Dr. Edward Baugh at UWI.)
“DEREK WALCOTT was one of the creators and changers of West Indian literature. It was the summary by Professor Emeritus Edward Baugh of the University of the West Indies on the legacy of the region’s most famous writer.
Baugh and I were talking earlier this month about his 2017 bio, Derek walcott, a 103-page book published by the University of the West Indies Press in its Caribbean Biographies Series. Baugh’s phrase “West Indian literature” may be vague to those unfamiliar with Walcott’s work, but the book elucidates.
Primarily, he focuses on Walcott as a poet and playwright. The author of hundreds of poems, some the length of a book, and over 30 plays, he died three years ago this month. March 17 would have been her 90th birthday.
The book also shows Walcott making and changing West Indian theater as a practitioner, not just a writer. He has founded or helped form theatrical production institutions in Saint Lucia (St Lucia Arts Guild), Trinidad and Tobago (Trinidad Theater Workshop) and Boston, USA (Boston Playwrights Theater), and has produced, directed and designed numerous plays.
In addition, he has written numerous treatises and articles on theater and the arts in general, ranging from academic to journalistic. The latter includes articles he wrote for The Guardian of the Trinity while he worked there as a screenwriter for about fifteen years, starting in 1959. Baugh says his main focus was “on literature, the arts (including the performing arts), culture and company “. Years earlier he had written similar articles for the Jamaican weekly Public opinion.
He has also contributed to the theater of the Caribbean and the world as an educator. In the early 1980s, he made short teaching trips to Columbia, Harvard and Yale; and in January 1986, began teaching drama and poetry writing at Boston University. He remained there for 25 years as a lecturer, as well as director of the Boston Playwrights Theater.
Gaining an international reputation as a teacher, Baugh writes, he stressed to his students “the need to see poetry as the product of hard work and discipline, and not just as an expression of oneself. and feelings. This meant, for example, spending an entire morning considering whether to use the indefinite article “a” or the definite article “the” in a given sentence ”.
Walcott again referred to the hard work involved in writing poetry in his 1992 Nobel Lecture, where he called poetry “the sweat of perfection.” At the same time, he continued, it must feel “as cool as the raindrops on the forehead of a statue …”.
The Nobel Prize for Literature was just one of the many prizes and awards he received. In 1993, during a visit to Jamaica for the UWI Alumni Gathering, he received one of Jamaica’s highest national honors, the Order of Merit. He also received the OBE, which officially makes him Sir Derek Walcott.
Several universities award him honorary doctorates in letters; he was the first Commonwealth citizen to receive the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry; and he was one of the first three laureates of the Order of the Caribbean Community awarded for his “phenomenal” contribution to the region’s economic, political, social and cultural metamorphoses. In 1999 it was reported that he was being considered to be named England’s Poet Laureate, an honor he indicated he was not opposed to.
Baugh’s book reports a scandal that likely prevented Walcott from getting another honor by becoming a professor of poetry at the University of Oxford. During his time living and teaching in the United States, a number of young women claimed he made inappropriate sexual advances to them. He denied the allegations, but the case resurfaced in 2009 when he was considered for the Oxford post. Shortly after being turned down, he accepted a similar post at the University of Essex.
Walcott began studying at University College of the West Indies in 1950, just two years after classes began at Mona’s College. He enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and Latin, writes Baugh, explaining that the English program “amounted to a history of English literature.”
Fifty years later, at the aforementioned alumni gathering, Walcott said that for most of his time in college, he “despised the place, its jaded and predictable curriculum, for not being the University of the West Indies …” .
Yet, Baugh points out, “Mona’s campus also gave Walcott enjoyable, productive and profitable years, years that heightened his sense of antiditude. The range of these activities involved friendships, the pursuit of his writing, the spearhead of student activity in creative writing, theater and painting ”.
(Continued next week.)