January 23

This Day in History

Literary

Jan 23, 1930:

Derek Walcott is born

On this day, poet and playwright Derek Walcott is born in St. Lucia, in the Carribbean. Walcott will win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.

Walcott's family descended from slaves in the West Indies, and the legacy of slavery is a common theme in his work. Both his parents were schoolteachers and encouraged a love of reading in their three children. When Walcott's father died, his mother raised the family on her own. Walcott knew early on he wanted to be a writer: His first book of poems was published when he was only 18. He continued writing and began teaching as well. Deeply interested in theater as well as poetry, he received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1957, which allowed him to study with a prominent director in New York for two years. In New York, Walcott founded the Trinidad Theater Workshop.

A prolific poet, Walcott published In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960 in 1962, Selected Poems in 1964, The Castaway in 1965, and The Gulf in 1969. His lush style explores multicultural tensions and questions of identity. Meanwhile, he continued his work in the theater, with plays like Ti-Jean and His Brothers (produced in 1958), Dream on Monkey Mountain (produced 1967), and Pantomime (produced 1978). He wrote more than 30 plays while continuing to publish poetry collections regularly. His book-length poem Omeros, published in 1990, evokes Homer's Odyssey in the environment of the Caribbean. Walcott was the first Caribbean writer to win the Nobel Prize.

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