Barrett, Lindsay 1941–
Lindsay Barrett 1941–
Journalist, poet, novelist, playwright
Born and raised in Jamaica, Lindsay Barrett worked as a journalist in Europe and Africa, eventually settling in Nigeria. During the 1960s and 1970s Barrett was well-known as an experimental and progressive essayist, poet, novelist, and playwright. His work revolved around issues of black identity and dispossession, the African Diaspora, and the survival of descendants of black Africans, now dispersed around the world. As a political analyst and commentator on Nigerian current events, Barrett is looked to as a reliable source of information on this troubled and divided nation, the most populous country in Africa and the continent’s largest oil producer.
Lindsay Barrett was born on September 15, 1941, in Lucea, Jamaica, the capital of the western Jamaican parish of Hanover. After graduating from high school, Barrett went to work as an apprentice journalist at the Daily Gleaner, Jamaica’s major newspaper, and for its sister afternoon tabloid, the Star. Early in 1961 he became a news editor for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. However, less than a year later Barrett moved to England. There he worked as a freelancer for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s overseas department and for the Transcription Centre, an organization that encouraged African writers by recording and then broadcasting their works in Europe and Africa. After a year, Barrett left England for France. For the next four years he traveled throughout Europe and North Africa as a journalist and feature writer based in Paris.
After traveling to the Dakar Arts Festival in Senegal in 1966, Barrett decided to remain in West Africa. He lectured at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone and taught in Ghana. He eventually settled in Nigeria, where he married Beti Okotie, a prominent Nigerian actress. At the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, Barrett lectured on the roots of African and Afro-American literature. He also worked in Nigerian radio and television. In the 1970s Barrett was a founding member of the progressive Nigerian Association of Patriotic Writers and Artistes.
As colonialism ended in much of Africa, a spirit of optimism prevailed. Many black American and Caribbean intellectuals moved to the newly-independent African nations. Nigeria gained its independence from Great Britain in 1960. But by 1967, civil war had broken out, and the Eastern Region’s military governor declared the independent state of Biafra as a homeland for the Igbo people. The civil war lasted for 30 months, and during that time between one and three million Biafrans died from violence, disease, and starvation. During the conflict, Barrett headed the Information Service of the East Central State, the heartland of the Igbo.
Barrett’s first book, The State of Black Desire, was published privately in Paris in 1966. It included three poems and three essays focusing on black alienation,
At a Glance…
Born Lindsay Barrett on September 15, 1941, in Lucea, Jamaica; married Beti Okotie.
Career: Jamaica Daily Gleaner, Star, apprentice journalist, c. 1959-61; Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, news editor, 1961; British Broadcasting Corporation, overseas department and transcription center freelancer, 1962-63; freelance journalist and political analyst, 1963–; author, poet, playwright, novelist, 1966-; Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone, lecturer, c. 1967; Information Service of the East Central State, Nigeria, c. 1967-70; Nigerian television and radio, producer, c. 1970–
Memberships: Nigerian Association of Patriotic Writers and Artistes, founding member, 1970s.
Awards: Illinois Arts Council, Conrad Kent Rivers Memorial Award, c. 1971.
Addresses: Office —c/o Publicity Director, Fourth Dimension Publishing Co. Ltd., House 16, Fifth Ave., City Layout, New Haven, Enugu, Nigeria PMB 01164.
exile, and black art. The essays were characteristic of the black aesthetic movement of the 1960s, which argued that black art, particularly jazz and other black music, contained the basis for building a black movement in the western world. However, it was Barrett’s lyrical and exciting prose that drew critical acclaim.
In 1968 an essay from The State of Black Desire, titled “The Tide Inside, It Rages!,” was reprinted in Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, edited by LeRoi Jones (Imamu Amiri Baraka) and Larry Neal. The first and last sections of this essay were reproduced in Black Arts: An Anthology of Black Creations in 1969. The essay’s opening statement read: “The situation of the black man in the western world today, is that of a man in the midst of an open war without the benefit of a complete knowledge of the weapons he holds.” Barrett went on to discuss black jazz as a metaphor for blacks in a white world: “If a black man could grasp a [John] Coltrane [saxophone] solo in its entirety as a club, and wield it with the force that first created it centuries before the white man moved Coltrane and his ancestors from the cave of history out into the bright flats of their enslavement, the battle would be near ending and in his favour.” In 1970 Barrett’s writing received the fifth Conrad Kent Rivers Memorial Award from the Illinois Arts Council.
In 1973 Barrett published a collection of poems, The Conflicting Eye, in London, under the pseudonym “Eseoghene.” Barrett’s other volumes of poetry, published in Nigeria, include Lipskybound in 1977 and A Quality of Pain and Other Poems in 1986. Barrett’s militant poems deal with racial and emotional conflict and exile. His poem “In My Eye and Heart” concerns Birmingham, Alabama, police chief “Bull” Connor, who unleashed police dogs against peaceful civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.
Barrett’s first novel, Song for Mumu, while popular in some academic communities, was not widely reviewed, even in the Caribbean, and most of the reviews were ambivalent. Some critics questioned the novel’s plotting and readability. Martin Levin of the New York Times Book Review, however, said that it is not the plot that makes Song for Mumu, worth reading, but instead, “What shines … is its language.” Barrett had written the novel in Frankfurt, Germany, Paris, and Accra, Ghana, between April of 1962 and October of 1966. It was published in Great Britain in 1967 and in the United States in 1974.
Song for Mumu is an allegorical novel of desire, love, and loss. Mumu’s loves and losses reflect the uprooting of the peoples of the black Diaspora and their children’s search for identity. Although Song for Mumu has a relatively simple plot, the story is intense, passionate, erotic, and violent. Set on an unnamed Caribbean island, the beauty of the lush countryside contrasts with the stark, cold city. A country boy named Scully is drawn to the language and nightlife of the city. However, after contracting a venereal disease from a prostitute, he returns to the country, where he is adopted by a farmer, Papa Peda. Scully and Peda’s daughter Meela fall passionately in love and run away to start their own farm. But the farmers in the area are unable to compete with the white plantation owner—the Rich Man—and Scully is forced to work for him as a stable boy. When he is kicked in the head by the Rich Man’s horse, he goes mad. Meela gives birth to twins and Scully blinds Papa Peda with his whip and kills the younger twin, a boy, because of the pain he has caused Meela during childbirth. Scully later kills himself in an insane asylum. The surviving twin, Mumu, and her mother take as lovers a father and son, who both drown in the “evil river,” that is, the sea.
The Old River Woman reveals the past to Mumu in poetry: “Yes yes Mumu the king cast camp upon the ocean shores and massed/his men to attack the roaring thing on the following day,/but in the night the white men sailed up to the shores and found the camp.// Over the years they stole humanity from that world to fulfil hungers of this world, dragging us across the evil river./The evil river claims its toll./The king leapt from that first boat and all his people followed/him but one. … But without their king our ancestors deeper in the/green were lost. It was not difficult to drag them here./And so we came./Yes yes Mumu we are the descendants of the Evil River’s victims./Only the rivers in the land have we mastered./The ocean is not our friend.” Mumu then asks the Old River Woman about his father: “Mother River, who was he?” Old River Woman answers, “He was the king’s brother’s child five generations gone, my child, but he did not know he was a prince.”
Mumu and Meela move to the city to escape their grief. They experience more loves and losses as Mumu searches for her origins in the identity of her father. Eventually Mumu becomes the willing victim of a ritualized murder committed by Meela’s lover, the Preacher. The novel opens with the final scene: Meela throws herself into Mumu’s grave, where she is killed by Papa Peda. It is a novel in which suffering and loss are resolved by death.
The prose story of Song for Mumu is accompanied by the choruses of the River Women, who carry out their gruesome revenge on the Rich Man and return the land to the farmers. Barrett’s prose, as well as the poetry of the River Women, are grounded in black music, including hymns, work songs, chants, religious ritual and dance.
Jump Kookoo Makka, one of Barrett’s many plays, was performed at the Leicester University Commonwealth Arts Festival in 1967, under the direction of Cosmo Pieterse. Home Again was performed in 1967 by Wole Soyinka’s company. Barrett’s theatrical collage of drama, dance, and music, Sighs of a Slave Dream, was performed in London and at the Keskidee Center of Islington in the early 1970s, by a Nigerian troupe under the direction of Pat Amadu Maddy. It portrays the capture and enslavement of Africans, their transport across the Atlantic, and their suffering on American plantations. Barrett’s play Blackblast was performed in London in 1973 and After This We Heard of Fire was produced by the Ibadan Arts Theatre in Nigeria. Various plays by Barrett have been performed at the Mbari Theatre of the University of Ibadan and on Nigerian National Radio. In addition, Barrett has written critically acclaimed radio and television programs on jazz, the arts, and Caribbean-African cultural issues.
Barrett’s work has appeared in anthologies, and he has been a contributing editor to the British magazines Frontline and West Indian World. He has also contributed short stories, poems, essays, and articles to numerous journals including Negro Digest/Black World, Revolution, Two Cities, the New African, Magnet, Daylight, the Black Scholar, and Black Lines. Barrett’s second published novel, Veils of Vengeance Falling, appeared in 1985.
Fourth Dimension in Enugu, Nigeria, has published many of Barrett’s political writings. Danjuma, the Making of a General, published in 1979, profiled the military leader who oversaw the massacre of Biafrans during the Nigerian civil war and who later became the Nigerian defense minister. Agbada to Khaki: Reporting a Change of Government in Nigeria was published in 1985 as an account of the political changes in Nigeria between 1979 and the 1983 coup d’etat. Barrett also has written on conflicts in Liberia.
Barrett wrote the foreword to a new edition of Amiri Baraka’s Four Revolutionary Plays: Experimental Death Unit 1, A Black Mass, Great Goodness of Life, Madheart, published in 1997. Widely recognized as an expert on the politics of Nigeria, Barrett has also written about oil production and its effects on the economy and the environment of Nigeria. In an article titled “Blaming the Blameless,” Barrett discussed Nigeria’s role in the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC).
In November of 2002 Barrett was quoted by the Reuters News Service in stories about the rioting among Muslims, Christians, and security forces that took place before the Miss World Pageant was about to be held in Nigeria. “It is unfortunate for Obasanjo [president of Nigeria] that the protests against the pageant were spearheaded by Muslim fundamentalists,” Barrett told Reuters. “People will conclude the president is not as much in charge as he thinks.” The pageant was subsequently moved to London.
Barrett was widely quoted in news reports following the re-election of Nigeria’s president, Olusegun Obasanjo, in April of 2003, amid widespread reports of blatant election fraud. Barrett told Daniel Balint-Kurti of Reuters, in an article that appeared on the Biafra Nigeria World website, “I am sitting in a state where Obasanjo was credited with 100 percent victories, and there is no celebration.” Barrett predicted that there would be more civil unrest in the oil-producing Niger delta, where many people have died in outbreaks of ethnic violence and protests over environmental degradation.
Barrett has also contributed online political analyses to the Niger Delta Congress, including an essay on Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, the Nigerian finance minister who was assassinated in 1966. Barrett wrote, “There is no greater tribute anyone could give to his memory than to acknowledge the fact that much of what needs to be done to bring Nigeria back to economic life can be found in the legacies of economic policy which he left behind.” Jerry Gana, the Nigerian Minister of Information and Orientation, has also been the subject of a report written by Barrett.
The State of Black Desire, Corbiére et Jugain, 1966; Ethiope, 1974.
“The Tide Inside, It Rages!,” in Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, Jones, LeRoi and Larry Neal, eds., William Morrow & Co., 1968; excerpted in Black Arts: An Anthology of Black Creations, Alhamisi, Ahmed and Harun Kofi Wangara, eds., Black Arts Publications, 1969.
Danjuma, the Making of a General, Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1979.
Agbada to Khaki: Reporting a Change of Government in Nigeria, Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1985.
Liberian Notes: A Study of Conflict and Resistance: A PACs Report, Yandia Printing Press, 1993. Report on Liberia, Yandia Printing Press, 1993.
(Foreward) Imamu Amiri Baraka, Four Black Revolutionary Plays: Experimental Death Unit 1, A Black Mass, Great Goodness of Life, Madheart, Marion Boyars, 1997.
Song for Mumu, Longmans, Green and Co., 1967; Howard University Press, 1974.
Veils of Vengeance Falling, Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1985.
(As Eseoghene) The Conflicting Eye, Paul Bremen, 1973.
The Quality of Pain and Other Poems, Gaskiya, 1976.
Lipskybound, Bladi House, 1977.
“Blaming the Blameless,” Niger Delta Congress, www.nigerdeltacongress.com/barticles/blaming20the20blameless.htm (December 8, 2003).
“Jerry Gana and the Revelations That Matter,” Niger Delta Congress, www.nigerdeltacongress.com/jar-ticles/jerry_5ana_and_the_revelations_t.htm (November 18, 2003).
“Okotie-Eboh and Yesterday’s Vision,” Niger Delta Congress, www.nigerdeltacongress.com/oarticles/okotie.htm (December 11, 2003).
“Revolution or Uprising?” Niger Delta Congress, www.nigerdeltacongress.com/rarticles/revolution_or_uprising.htm (December 11, 2003).
Barrett is the author of numerous plays and radio and television programs.
Edwards, Norval, “Nadi,” in Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, Dance, Daryl Cumber, ed., Greenwood Press, 1986, pp. 26-34.
Herdeck, Donald E., ed., Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical-Critical Encyclopedia, Three Continents Press, 1979, pp. 25-26.
New York Times Book Review, September 29, 1974, p. 40.
Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review, Summer 1987, pp. 3–22.
“(Eseoghene) Lindsay Barrett,” Contemporary Authors Online, reproduced in Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (November 25, 2003).
“Jubilant Obasanjo Ignores Fury Over ’Vote-Rigging,’” Biafra Nigeria World, http://news.biafranigeria-world.com/archive/2003/apr/23/OOl.html (November 25, 2003).
“Riots Persist in Nigeria, Beauty Queens Fly to U.K.,” Reuters Wire (Charlotte Observer), www.charlotte.com/mld/charlotte/4591073.htm (December 11, 2003).
"Barrett, Lindsay 1941–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 18, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/barrett-lindsay-1941
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