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  April 12, 2005

Derek Walcott, the Nobel laureate, in his remarks during the fourth Organization of American States (OAS) Lecture Series of the Americas today, discussed his acclaimed 1981 narrative poem, The Fortunate Traveler, in the context of issues surrounding suffering and human compassion.

“That traveler does not have to endure what he sees,” was the point the Saint Lucian-born Walcott underscored about the central character in the narrative poem—a character of universal value. “But that’s what we have to do, we have to share that suffering that we see, that mass suffering that we see, these enormous disasters that are so big, they don’t touch us privately. Some disasters are too big to apprehend.” He said that although “one single digit can’t make a difference in terms of our own suffering. And yet, all of these organizations in the 20th century are based basically on compassion, not on economy.”

“Poets of the 20th century are not often encouraged to say anything, especially in verse, about anything,” quipped Walcott, who won the 1992 Nobel Prize for Literature. “And yet, what we have to deal in the world… is conscience.” He used this as his entrée to the reading from The Fortunate Traveler, adding to his preface as well remarks about responsibility and the horrors perpetrated in the 20th century and which seem to be continuing into the 21st century—such as famine and disease.

He also commented briefly on literature as a unifying force that could advance the coming together of peoples in the hemisphere, suggesting more translations would give English-speaking audiences, for instance, better access to Spanish-American literature and French-American literature, and vice-versa.

OAS Permanent Council Chairman, Peru’s Ambassador Alberto Borea, opened the conference. Acting Secretary General Luigi R. Einaudi introduced Mr. Walcott, and later moderated the question-and-answer period that followed Walcott’s remarks. Also on hand was José Antonio Chang, President of Peru’s San Martin de Porres University, one of the sponsors of the Lecture Series.
Created by the Permanent Council on an initiative of the Peruvian government, the Lecture Series of the Americas is intended to promote democratic principles and values in the countries of the hemisphere. The monthly conferences feature internationally known speakers who address key issues of the hemispheric agenda, such as the strengthening of democracy, human rights, social development, hemispheric security and the fight against poverty. Former US President Jimmy Carter, Inter-American Development Bank President Enrique Iglesias and International Criminal Court President Phillipe Kirsch have been keynote speakers for the first three lectures, respectively. The 12 conferences scheduled for 2005 are being held thanks to a financial contribution from Peru’s San Martín de Porres University.

Reference: E-068/05