The University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library will host an exhibition of Nobel Laureate poet Derek Walcott’s work next year.
Chief Librarian Carole Moore made the announcement at Hart House recently where the 81-year-old St. Lucian-born Walcott made an appearance for a conversation with award-winning U of T assistant professor Christian Campbell.
Walcott’s collection includes drafts of most of his published work with holograph notes, revisions, rough and final drafts, journals and notebooks. There is also an extraordinarily rich array of water colours and pen and ink drawings – many in the form of what are sometimes in the theatre world called “story boards” – intimately related to his poems, plays and film scripts.
“The Walcott papers relate to the poetic, theatrical and prose writing from the early 1980s to present,” said Moore. “This vast and rich collection, which is our first of a Nobel Laureate in Literature, attracts researchers from all over the world as well as our own students and faculty who are very much inspired by his exceptional work in so many forms.
“Researchers come from a wide range of disciplines, including Caribbean Studies, Comparative Literature, Drama, English, Equity Studies, History and Poetry.”
Moore thanked Walcott for entrusting the university to be the home of his work to be displayed from September to December 2011.
Hart House, in conjunction with the university’s Caribbean Studies, Diaspora and Transnational Studies and the Faculty of Arts & Science hosted the event, the title of which was The Sea is History.
“It’s truly a privilege when the university is able to bring one of the world’s great cultural figures to our campus,” said Faculty of Arts & Science dean Meric Gertler. “It’s even more enjoyable when we are able to share that unique opportunity and experience with this city.
“Toronto has a dynamic Caribbean community that has an endearing fondness for Derek Walcott. He is also a special friend of this university in that our library is one of two places in the world (the other is the University of the West Indies campus at St. Augustine in Trinidad & Tobago) that have the privilege of hosting his literary papers. He is also part of our curriculum and our students have the opportunity to study his work in such courses as English and contemporary West Indian Literature.”
Walcott, who just missed out on an Oxford scholarship because he was weak in math, studied French, Latin and Spanish at the University College of the West Indies and taught in St. Lucia, Grenada and Jamaica before settling in Trinidad & Tobago in 1953 where he continued to write poetry and plays.
He said he knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a poet.
“Since I knew what I wanted to do and the direction in which I wanted to go, I used to imitate some of the best in the business,” said Walcott. “My father wrote satirical verse and was a painter. I was dedicated to continuing in his footsteps after he died very early at 31 of an ear infection.”
Walcott said his mother gave him $200, which was a huge amount at the time, to self-publish his first collection of poems when he was 18.
The founder of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop and the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre at Boston University where he taught literature and creative writing, Walcott was last year appointed Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex and the first distinguished scholar in residence at the University of Alberta.
He enjoyed a close relationship with his twin brother Roderick who died in Toronto in March 2000 after a prolonged illness. Roderick studied theatre arts at York University and was the recipient of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1976 for outstanding theatrical work in St. Lucia.
Walcott visited Africa for the first time this year at the invitation of Wole Soyinka who in 1986 became the first Nigerian to win a Nobel Prize and the first Black to win the Noble Prize for literature. Walcott was in Africa to attend the Food, Security and Poverty Alleviation conference in Lagos, Nigeria.
He has written 16 collections of poems, his most recent being White Egrets that was published earlier this year.
St. Lucia has produced two Nobel Laureates. Late economist Sir Arthur Lewis who was born on same day as Walcott – January 23 – won the prestigious prize in 1979.