Lindsay Barrett, a once popular columnist in, and still a regular contributor of feature articles to, the pages of The Sun has been given a Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in creative writing by the Institute of Arts and Culture at the University of Port Harcourt. Barrett was one of several awardees honoured at the recent Gabriel Okara Literary Festival, which was mounted to pay tribute to Nigeria’s great lyric poet and novelist Okara as he clocked 96 years of age. Below is the citation on Barrett’s achievement which was produced by the institute for the occasion.
“Carlton Lindsay Barrett, also known as Eseoghene (born 15 September 1941), is a Jamaican-born Nigerian poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, journalist and photographer who since 1966 has lived in Nigeria, of which country he became a citizen in the mid-1980s.
He initially drew critical attention for his debut novel, Song for Mumu, which on publication in 1967 was favourably noticed by such reviewers as Edward Baugh and Marina Maxwell (who respectively described it as “remarkable” and “significant”); more recently it has been commended for its “pervading passion, intensity, and energy”, referred to as a classic, and features on “must-read” lists of Jamaican books. Particularly during the 1960s and 1970s, Barrett was well known as an experimental and progressive essayist, his work being concerned with issues of black identity and dispossession, the African Diaspora, and the survival of descendants of black Africans, now dispersed around the world.
Barrett was born in Lucea, Jamaica, into an agricultural family. Barrett attended Clarendon College in Jamaica, and he has written that he was inspired to decide to live in Africa by a visit that pan-Africanist Dudley Thompson paid to the school in 1957. After graduating from high school in 1959, Barrett worked as an apprentice journalist at the Daily Gleaner newspaper and for its sister afternoon tabloid, The Star. In early 1961, he became a news editor for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, where his mentor was the Jamaican journalist and political analyst John Maxwell. Less than a year later, Barrett moved to England, where he worked as a freelancer for the BBC World Service in London and for the Transcription Centre, an organisation that recorded and broadcast the works of African writers in Europe and Africa.
In 1962, Barrett left England for France, and during the next four years travelled throughout Europe and North Africa as a journalist and feature writer, based in Paris. There he was associated with many notable black poets and artists, including Lanqston Hughes, Lebert “Sandy” Bethune, Ted Joans, Beauford Delaney and Herb Gentry. In 1966 Barrett’s book The State of Black Desire (three poems and three essays “focusing on the theme of black alienation, exile, and black art”), illustrated by St. Kitts painter Larry Potter, was one of the first publications of the press of the Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company.
Barrett travelled to Dakar, Senegal, in 1966 for the first World Festival of Black Arts, where described by Negro Digest as “the fireball from Jamaica” he organised a poetry-reading session at the US Cultural Center. After the Festival, Barrett decided to remain in West Africa.
He took up residence in Nigeria that year, and has said that he was urged to go there by the writer John Pepper Clark, whom he had met in London in 1961, and whose play The Raft had influenced Barrett’s own decision to begin writing plays, particularly one called John Pukumaka.1 He has said: “I came to Nigeria directly because I was influenced by her literature. I came to Africa because I wanted to renew the spirit of ancestral hope. I felt that there was hope in knowing where you came from and that we could renew our links, that we could strengthen our systems.”
From 1966 to 1967 Barrett was Secretary of the Mbari Artists Club, which was “a hub of literary and cultural activities” in Ibadan: “We were in a historic, literary setting,” he recalled, “when the civil war broke out and disintegrated everything.” He was Director of the East Central State Information Service during the Nigerian Civil War under Chief Ukpabi Asika. In the 1970s Barrett was a founding member of the Nigerian Association of Patriotic Writers and Artistes. He became a naturalised Nigerian citizen in the mid-1980s.
He has worked as a lecturer and has taught at many educational establishments in West Africa, including in Ghana, at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone, and at Nigeria’s University of Ibadan where he lectured on the roots of African and Afro-American literature at the invitation of Professors Wole Soyinka and the late Omafume Onoge.
Barrett is also a broadcaster, particularly in Nigerian radio and television, and has produced and presented critically acclaimed programmes on jazz, the arts, and Caribbean-African issues.
He has been involved with many cultural initiatives, interacting with a wide range of African diaspora artists visiting Nigeria; including Ornette Coleman, Jimmy Cliff, Jayne Cortez, Melvin Edwards, and others.
Barrett’s other novels are Lipskybound, (1977) and Veils of Vengeance Falling (1985). Some of his plays are Jump Kookoo Makka, which was presented at the Leicester University Commonwealth Arts Festival in 1967 (directed by Cosmo Pieterse); Home Again performed by Wole Soyinka’s company; Blackblast performed in London, the first black play at the Institute of Contemporary Arts’ Full House (broadcast on Saturday, 3 February 1973); And After This We Heard of Fire, produced by the lbadan Arts Theatre in Nigeria, and Sighs of a Slave Dream, the first major production to be staged at the Keskidee Centre, in north London.
His poetry collections are The Conflicting Eye (published under the pseudonym “Eseoghene” in 1973), A Quality of Pain and Other Poems (1986), A Memory of Rivers; Poems Out of the Niger Delta (2006), and Visiting Eternity (2016). In 1970, his writing received the fifth Conrad Kent Rivers Memorial Award from the Illinois Arts Council. In August 2009, A Memory of Rivers: Poems Out of the Niger Delta was one of nine books shortlisted or the Nigeria Prize for Literature. On the occasion of Barrett’s 75th birthday, 15 September 2016, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement commending Barrett for “his love for Nigeria.”