Walcott Was Our Voice, Speaking Our Language

by Arley Gill

The Caribbean is well-known and respected for the arts; our music, literature, dance, and our cultural art forms.

Our cultural artists have done a lot to not only define who we are as a people, but also to inform the world about who we are. We have punched well above our weight globally, when one considers our population and economy.

Sir Derek Walcott that “red nigger’’, born in the ward of St Lucia in the Caribbean, is one of those persons who played a leading role in defining who we are and telling the world about us. This poet, playwright and painter is a Caribbean cultural icon. What Bob Marley did with music, he did with poetry.

Persons who are much more qualified than I am, will provide the critique of his work and his life. What I do know, is the sense of pride I felt as a student when Sir Derek Walcott received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The reality is that, coming from the Caribbean one does not ordinarily expect his or her work to be so recognized. One had to be real good and well-respected to have done so. Sir Derek was real good!

It was a proud moment and a testament to his work that, on his death, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) paid tribute by featuring his work; the BBC provided commentary on his life and work, over and over again. I said to myself, Sir Derek is the man!

Recently, I wrote that a book written about the Grenadian Revolution by one of its leaders, Joseph Ewart Layne, should be a compulsory text in the secondary schools in Grenada.

This week, here I am writing that selected works of Sir Derek must be taught in secondary schools in Grenada and all over the Caribbean. Now, that is the least we can do to pay tribute to Walcott – someone who did so much for us. How come we do the same for one William Shakespeare? Look, Sir Derek is our own voice, speaking our language in our own reality. It is my respectful view that, this must be done to help in redressing the issues we have in the Caribbean with the consciousness of our people. We need to celebrate the life and the legacy of the great man.

It is in recognition of the literary excellence of our people that the “Aunty Tek Literary Festival’’ was started in Grenada several years ago.

Aunty Tek, born in another place and another time, would be a lady of great fame and wealth with the talent and creativity she possessed. That lady – Thelma “Aunty Tek’’ Phillip – was culture.

The literary festival was named in her honour to provide a national platform to the written and spoken word. Grenada has so many talented writers, poets and playwrights at home and abroad. The likes of Merle Collins; Omawale Franklyn; Lincoln Depradine; Richardo Keens-Douglas; Jacob Ross; Clyde Belfon; George Griffith; Rowley Jeffrey; Dr Nicole Dowe; Cindy McKenzie; Roger Byer; John Angus Martin; Dr Wendy Crawford-Daniel; Dunbar Campbell; Chris and Anthony DeRiggs; as well as the late George Brizan and Maurice Patterson; and the list can continue. Some have received regional and international acclaim for their work. I have no doubt that they will continue to represent us well.

I don’t know the current status or the quality of the literary festival in Grenada; however, I hope it is continuing and it’s moving from strength to strength. It is a platform for a quintessential part of our cultural expression.

May the soul of Sir Derek Walcott, Rest In Peace.

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