Nobel laureate prizewinning poet “gentle giant” Derek Walcott has died aged 87 at his home in St Lucia after a long illness.
The Caribbean poet was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992 and his poetry collection White Egrets won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry in 2011. Walcott also won the MacArthur Foundation award, the so-called genius grant, among several other prizes.
Faber has published his works since the 1980s including his more recent Morning, Paramin, a full-colour book of 50 paintings and original poems to run alongside them produced with painter Peter Doig.
Matthew Hollis, poetry editor at Faber, described Walcott as a “gentle giant”.
“He reminded me of a gentle giant from a children’s book,” Hollis told The Bookseller. “You were always aware of him but he had a lightness of touch that was very personable and I liked him very much. He will be missed very much indeed by everyone at Faber.”
Walcott’s voice was one of “rare inclusion” and his writing would continue to be read long after his passing, Hollis said. “He had a very unusual gift for being able to write so specifically and carefully about the minutiae of living day to day, particularly in the Caribbean,” Hollis said. “Yet at the same time he managed to draw out human endeavour. He did that remarkably well. I think that is one of the reasons we will continue to read his work after his passing. For him that idea of a life examined really mattered.”
Hollis said he first came across Walcott’s poems as a young schoolboy when he was too young to buy books. “I used to go to the library and memorise his poems so I could read them later,” he said. He first spoke to Walcott as a student collecting “manifestos” from poets for a book, Strong Words. “I telephoned him out of the blue and he said he wouldn't be happy to give a manifesto, but he would be happy to talk about why he wouldn't, and treat that interview as his contribution. He was very generous in giving his time for to someone he had never met before.”
The Poetry Society’s vice president Ian McMillan has also paid tribute to the poet. “(I) first read his work when I was a teenager trying to understand how poetry might work,” he said.
Meanwhile former poet laureate Andrew Motion said the author did “as much or more than anyone to win the global respect for Caribbean writing that it deserves and now enjoys”.
He told The Guardian: “As a member of the great Nobel-winning poetic generation that included Brodsky and Heaney, he did as much or more than anyone to win the global respect for Caribbean writing that it deserves and now enjoys. The rich sensualities of his writing are deeply evocative and also definitive, and its extraordinary historical and literary reach – in his long Homeric poem Omeros especially – gives everything in the present of his work the largest possible resonance. He will be remembered as a laureate of his particular world, who was also a laureate of the world in general.”
In a statement to St Lucia News Online, his daughters Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw and Anna Walcott-Hardy said: “Derek Alton Walcott, poet, playwright, and painter died peacefully today, Friday 17th March, 2017, at his home in Cap Estate, Saint Lucia. He was 87 years old and will be greatly missed by his family and friends.”