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He was born in Castries, Saint Lucia; one of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles. Both his grandmothers were descendants of slaves. His father, a Bohemian watercolorist, died when Walcott and his twin brother, Roderick, were very young and his mother ran the town's Methodist school. After studying at St. Mary's College in Saint Lucia and at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Walcott moved to Trinidad in 1953, where he worked as a theatre and art critic.
The experience of growing up in an ex-British colony has had a strong influence on Walcott's life and work. In 1959, he founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop which produced many of his early plays. At the age of 18, he made his debut with 25 Poems, but his breakthrough came with the collection of poems, In a Green Night (1962). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992, becoming the first person of African descent to receive that award.
Walcott's poetry collections include Tiepolo's Hound (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000), The Bounty (1997), Omeros (1990), The Arkansas Testament (1987), Collected Poems: 1948-1984 (1986), Midsummer (1986), The Fortunate Traveller (1981), The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979), Sea Grapes (1976), Another Life (1973), The Gulf (1970), The Castaway (1965), and In a Green Night (1962). His first collection of essays, What the Twilight Says (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), was published in 1998.
His plays include The Odyssey: A Stage Version (1992); The Isle is Full of Noises (1982); Remembrance and Pantomime (1980); The Joker of Seville and O Babylon! (1978); Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (1970); Three Plays: The Last Carnival; Beef, No Chicken; and A Branch of the Blue Nile (1969).
Walcott also founded Boston Playwrights' Theatre at Boston University in 1981 where he continued to teach poetry and drama in the Creative Writing Department. He gave readings and lectures throughout the world and lives in St. Lucia. Derek Walcott died at his home in Cap Estate, St. Lucia, on March 17, 2017.