The UCI Center for Medical Humanities hosted a talk titled “Derek Walcott’s Omeros, The Wound of Slavery and Crafting Resistance” via Zoom on Oct. 27.
The hour-long talk featured graduate student Gwen Pare of the Spanish and Portuguese department, who spoke about her archival research travels to Kingston, Jamaica and St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Derek Walcott’s Nobel prize-winning 1992 poem “Omeros.”
Pare began her talk by sharing photos from her trips to Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago. She displayed photos of two college campuses: the University of the West Indies based in Kingston and the St. Augustine campus in Trinidad and Tobago. Both were built on top of former sugar plantations which housed slave workers.
Pare noted that the existence of historical remnants of slave quarters seemed “starkly divorced from people, especially younger people I interacted with, admittedly on a superficial level.”
She spoke of attending a local Literature Festival close to the Port of Spain and noticed that local newspaper front pages featured headlines pertaining to the topical high cost of living or crime — a stark contrast from the monuments and archives she had read on local university campuses which highlighted the region’s history of slavery.
In addition to the archival research she conducted on her travels, Pare also visited nearby inner cities that were more popular with tourists and noted that they were “polished up … to make foreign visitors feel comfortable and safe in these cities.”
Areas like Woodford Square in Trinidad and Tobago where Black Power uprisings of the 70s took place now look very different, a “very serene, almost sanitized space,” according to Pare.
Pare then shifted focus to the writings of two authors, Como de Brathwaite and Nobel awardee Derek Walcott, a poet who graduated from the University of the West Indies which Pare had visited during her travels.
The two authors evidently had some key disagreements. Braithwaite was a writer who promoted African Carribean solidarity, whereas Walcott was more critical of Black power in the Carribean, with one particularly controversial statement being “revolution based on race is suicidal.”
The central reading of the talk was Walcott’s Nobel prize-winning poem “Omeros,” which spoke about how the wound of slavery “will never heal.”It is an epic that jumps between different characters with certain portions taking place in the West Indies. “Omeros” offers a more unconventional approach to understanding the wounds of slavery.
Pare ended the meeting by accepting questions from attendees. Those who wish to learn more about Pare’s research and travels can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Simon Jeau is a Campus News Intern for the fall 2022 quarter. He can be reached at email@example.com.