March 17, 2017

The Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago wishes to join with the rest of the world and our colleagues in St. Lucia, in mourning the passing of one of the great icons of West Indian literature, Sir Derek Alton Walcott, who died earlier today in his native St. Lucia at the age of 87. We offer our condolences to his family, both in St. Lucia and here at home.

Sir Derek, teacher, poet and playwright, epitomised what was best about Caribbean literature. Having lived through the colonial and post-colonial periods, and raised by his two grandmothers who traced their lineage back to the days of plantation slavery, Walcott used his poetry and plays to articulate his struggle with the questions of race and his own passion for British poetry. He described it as a “wrestling contradiction of being white in mind and black in body, as if the flesh were coal from which the spirit like tormented smoke writhed to escape.”

Walcott was as much Trinbagonian as he was St. Lucian. He gave birth to the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1959 and was its founding director until 1971. Under his tutelage and with his support, local thespians like Beryl McBurnie, Stanley Marshall and Errol Jones gave flight to their craft. Generations after, others like the current members of the Three Canal Group would find in him a willing mentor and friend. Through his many workshops, readings and advice, Walcott ensured that poetry which represented the Caribbean perspective was given voice by those who would succeed him.

It was his willingness to share his work that led to such masterpieces as Dream on Monkey Mountain which earned him the Obie Award in 1971, the Inaugural OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, and the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry Recognition Award in 2015.

The zenith of his career though would come following his publication of the 64-chapter Caribbean epic “Omeros” in 1990, when in 1992 he received the Nobel Laureate Award for Literature. His many successes effectively dispelled the myth that “nothing could ever be built among these rotting shacks, barefooted backyards and moulting shingles.”

Sir Derek Walcott was without doubt the Caribbean’s quintessential poet, and his passing has made us all the poorer for it. We are confident though that the tremendous legacy which he has left behind, will find immortality in many ways in the years to come.

The Government awaits word from the St. Lucian government and his family with respect to funeral arrangements, at which Trinidad and Tobago will be represented.