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Nobel laureate, poet and playwright Derek Walcott dies aged 87

He had a complex African, Dutch and English ancestry that led him to conclude that his was a white mind in a black body. In awarding him the Nobel Prize in 1992, the committee called his writing "majestic."

Derek Walcott, a Nobel-prize winning poet known for capturing the essence of his native Caribbean, has died on the island of St. Lucia. He was 87.

Walcott's death was confirmed early Friday by his son, Peter.

"Derek Alton Walcott, poet, playwright, and painter died peacefully today, Friday 17th March, 2017, at his home in Cap Estate, Saint Lucia," according to a statement released by the family later in the morning.

The statement said Walcott's funeral would be held in St. Lucia but details weren't immediately available.

Walcott was a prolific and versatile poet, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992 after being shortlisted for the honor for many years. In choosing Walcott, the academy cited the "luminosity" of his writings. In particular, his 64-chapter Caribbean epic, "Omeros,"  in 1990, was praised as "majestic."

"In him, West Indian culture has found its great poet," said the Swedish academy in awarding the $1.2 million prize to Walcott.

His passions ranged from watercolor painting to teaching to theater. Walcott's work was widely praised for its depth and bold use of metaphor, and its mix of sensuousness and technical prowess. He likened his feeling for poetry to a religious vocation.

Among the greatest writers

Walcott said of his African, Dutch and English ancestry that his writing reflected the "very rich and complicated experience" of life in the Caribbean. His dazzling, painterly work earned him a reputation as one of the greatest writers of the second half of the 20th century.

Soviet exile poet Joseph Brodsky, who won the Nobel literature prize in 1987, accused critics of relegating Walcott to regional status because of "an unwillingness ... to admit that the great poet of the English language is a black man."

Walcott himself proudly celebrated his role as a Caribbean writer.

"I am primarily, absolutely a Caribbean writer," he said during a 1985 interview published in "The Paris Review." "The English language is nobody's special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself. I have never felt inhibited in trying to write as well as the greatest English poets."

From an early age, he struggled with questions of race and his passion for British poetry.

He described it as a "wrestling contradiction of being white in mind and black in body, as if the flesh were coal from which the spirit like tormented smoke writhed to escape."

But he overcame that inner struggle, writing: "Once we have lost our wish to be white, we develop a longing to become black."

bik/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)