To speak with Sir Derek Walcott would have also been to feel his undeniable, untainted love for Saint Lucia. His work in literature and theatre, his conversation and his representation, testified his dedication to developing the arts. With Nobel Prize in hand, he reached his arm as far back as he could to the younger generations of the island. Some of us only extended to his hand when he was already starting to pull it back, not by will, but by fateful end.
I remember when the STAR hosted the launch for Sir Derek’s final book Morning, Paramin, a collaboration with the artisit Peter Doig. We had the mammoth task of cooking up an event he would appreciate, while we sadly received updates on his regular visits to the hospital. Then, when the night of Saturday December 17, 2017 finally arrived and we thought everything was running smoothly, Sir Derek had to cut his poetry recital short for emergency hospital admission. Maybe we all saw it coming but it was difficult, especially for Mae and Rick Wayne, to come to the realization that the local icon was literally fading right before our eyes. I could merely imagine how much worse it felt for a young group of students who had found a mentor, teacher, motivator, confidant and friend in Sir Derek Walcott.
Five young novices in drama were recruited by Derek Walcott for tutorials at his home late 2015, with lessons in theatre and literature. Shakeem Goddard, Kyvon Edwin, Anarcisse Alexander, Jonathan Bruce and the only female in the group, Melissa Harte, told the STAR that they were honoured in so many ways to have had an experience of that sort with Sir Derek Walcott. They had the opportunity to study with the great man for almost a year learning crucial, technical elements of acting as well as preparing for what the real world of casting would be like. From the descriptions of their classes, Sir Derek seemed to have focused on the depth of theatre and stressed on methods of observation and critique.
“Derek helped us gain a holistic approach and pulled out a new perspective of theatre and drama from us. He would give us homework and be stern when telling us that we don’t read enough,” Melissa said. “He taught us this mantra: I respect myself, I respect my craft and, if it is my calling, I respect my calling.”
Shakeem is now in New York following a dream of both his and Sir Derek’s but he made sure not to miss the interview with the STAR. When the group was asked why they thought Derek Walcott wanted to teach them in particular he shouted from Skype, “He saw potential in us! Potential we didn’t even see and he didn’t want our passion to die out because of lack of resources here. He believed we were capable.”
This group of students stopped having classes around October of last year due to Sir Derek’s decline. They were all in different places when they found out about his passing and feel that they have lost not just a teacher, but a dear friend. “We feel that we have responsibility now to develop our talents, to make ourselves and Derek proud. There were moments in our performances when he would give us this look of pride and sometimes even tears would come out,” they all agreed. “He passed the torch to us before he left.”