NOTHING less than the establishment of a Derek Walcott Theatre should be considered in paying tribute to the late Nobel Laureate, local author Lawrence Scott said yesterday.
Scott was among those mourning the loss of one of the Caribbean’s most prolific and widely-read poets and playwrights, following news yesterday that St Lucian-born Walcott — who spent many years living and writing in Trinidad and Tobago — had passed away at his Cap Estate home, in St Lucia, at the age of 87.
Word of Sir Derek Alton Walcott’s passing was not a surprise to those who knew he had been very ill for some time, but it still came as a shock, Scott noted.
Scott said his last contact with the revered author took place during last year’s instalment of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad, for which Walcott had won the inaugural OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature in 2011, with the poetry collection White Egrets.
Saying he was saddened, Scott said his first thought on hearing the news was that the world would not again be gifted with new poems from Walcott.
Asked what he considered an appropriate way to honour Sir Derek’s work and memory, Scott suggested the establishment of a Derek Walcott Theatre.
Walcott’s death at 7.30 yesterday morning, at his St Lucian residence, was confirmed in a statement from his children Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw and Anna Walcott-Hardy.
The release stated that Walcott will be “greatly missed” by family and friends and Walcott-Hardy told the Express that a State funeral in St Lucia, at a date to be announced, has been confirmed.
Generations of overwhelming presence
Bocas Lit Fest founder and director Marina Salandy-Brown, in a media statement yesterday, mourned that “not having such a massive talent living and breathing in our space is a big loss”.
“No one can doubt that his work shaped the Caribbean’s literary space irrevocably.”
No Caribbean poet following Walcott could escape wrestling with his words and thoughts, Salandy-Brown said, adding: “He believed he was writing in the company of Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, Yeats, and that there was no subject or idea too big for Caribbean writing.”
Salandy-Brown said Walcott “shaped the language we think in and speak in” and changed the Caribbean’s understanding of the world.
“He was a poet whose books people reach for in times of trouble, sorrow, celebration. He wrote often about the light — the physical light of the Caribbean, for which he had a painter’s eye — but his poems are also full of a metaphysical light, illuminating and consoling,” Salandy-Brown said.
Walcott’s epic poem Omeros is the embodiment of that and is one of the great works of world literature, Salandy-Brown noted.
He will find immortality
In a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley noted that “Walcott was a prolific writer whose creative works were strongly influenced by Caribbean culture and who also sought to share the West Indian experience with the world”.
Rowley also stated: “I am deeply saddened by his passing but I am certain that his work, teachings and scholarship will continue to influence a new generation of theatre professionals, writers and poets.”
In a statement from the Ministry of Public Administration and Communications, Walcott was called the quintessential poet, whose 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 Ministry stated.
The release said Government awaits word as to funeral details and that Trinidad and Tobago will be represented.
“Walcott was as much Trinbagonian as he was St Lucian,” the Ministry said, noting that Walcott “gave birth” to the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1959 and was its founding director until 1971.
UWI pays tribute
The University of the West Indies (The UWI) has also extended condolences to Walcott’s family and recalled that on his 80th birthday, the university honoured Walcott through a showcase of his art and literature in an academic conference, “Interlocking Basins of a Globe”.
This included an exhibition of the Walcott family’s private collection of his paintings and a performance of “Fragments”, a play celebrating his literary works.
In 2014, Walcott launched the Derek Walcott Theatre Arts Scholarship, awarded annually to a UWI Theatre Arts student.