Lindsay Barrett

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Carlton Lindsay Barrett, also known as Eseoghene (born 15 September 1941), is a Jamaican poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, journalist and photographer who lives in Nigeria. 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. One of his sons is the Nigerian writer A. Igoni Barrett,[1] with whom he has also worked professionally.

Life in Jamaica[edit]

Lindsay Barrett was born in Lucea, Jamaica, into an agricultural family. His father, Lionel Barrett, was a lifelong farmer and senior agriculturist with the Jamaican Ministry of Agriculture; his great-uncle, A. P. Hanson, founded the Jamaica Agricultural Society in the early 1930s.[2] 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: "In that visit he spoke eloquently of the cultural links that existed between Africa, especially Ghana, and Jamaica. He told us that the future held great potential for the restoration of our souls if we found ways to renew our links with the continent."[3]

After graduating from high school in 1959 Barrett worked as an apprentice journalist at the Daily Gleaner[4] 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.

Move to Europe: 1962–66[edit]

Less than a year later, Barrett moved to England, where he worked as a freelancer for the British Broadcasting Corporation's World Service in London and for the Transcription Centre,[4][5] an organisation that recorded and broadcast the works of African writers in Europe and Africa.[6][7] 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. In Paris, he was associated with many notable black poets and artists, including Langston Hughes,[8] Ted Joans,[9] Beauford Delaney and Herb Gentry.[10] 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"),[11] illustrated by St. Kitts painter Larry Potter,[12] was one of the first publications of the press of the Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company.[13]

His first novel, Song For Mumu, was written between April 1962 and October 1966, and published in 1967.

Migration to Africa: 1966 onwards[edit]

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"[14] – he organised a poetry-reading session at the US Cultural Center.[15] 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.[16] 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,2 Barrett recalled, 2when the civil war broke out and disintegrated everything.2[17] He was Director of the East Central State Information Service during the Nigerian Civil War under Chief Ukpabi Asika.[7] 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.[7]

Barrett 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 the University of Ibadan[4] in Nigeria, 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 cultural issues.


Lindsay Barrett's acclaimed first novel, Song for Mumu - "an allegorical novel of desire, love, and loss"[18] - was published in London in 1967. It was reviewed favourably by critics such as Martin Levin of the New York Times, who commented that "What shines ... is its language."[19] Reviewing the novel for Caribbean Quarterly, Edward Baugh wrote of "the way in which it moves in worlds of magic and madness, myth and primitive ritual, not so as to exploit their strangeness, but to make them familiar, to emphasise their immediate reality, no less real than the reality of the natural and everyday. In his own distinctive way, Barrett is doing something not dissimilar to what, in their separate ways, Wilson Harris and the Cuban Alejo Carpentier have done".[20]

Over the next years Barrett was the author of many plays that were staged in England and in Nigeria. Jump Kookoo Makka was presented at the Leicester University Commonwealth Arts Festival in 1967, directed by Cosmo Pieterse and that same year Home Again was performed by Wole Soyinka's company.[18] In 1973 Barrett's play Blackblast was performed in London, the first black play at the Institute of Contemporary Arts[21] (with a cast featuring Yemi Ajibade, Yulisa Amadu Maddy, Leslie Palmer, Eddie Tagoe, Karene Wallace, Basil Wanzira, and Elvania Zirimu, among others, directed by Horace Ové)[22] and was filmed for a special edition of the BBC's arts and entertainment programme Full House that was devoted to the work of West Indian writers, artists, musicians and filmmakers.[23] Barrett's And After This We Heard of Fire was produced by the Ibadan Arts Theatre in Nigeria. In 1972 his theatrical collage of drama, dance and music, Sighs of a Slave Dream, was the first major production to be staged at the Keskidee Centre, in north London, performed by a Nigerian troupe under the direction of Pat Amadu Maddy.[24][25] It portrays the capture and enslavement of Africans, their transport across the Atlantic, and their suffering on American plantations. Various plays by Barrett have been performed at the Mbari Theatre of the University of Ibadan and on Nigerian National Radio.

Barrett is in addition a poet, whose early militant poems dealt with racial and emotional conflict and exile, as evidenced in his collection, The Conflicting Eye, published under the pseudonym "Eseoghene" in 1973. That same year he produced a staged version of Linton Kwesi Johnson's poem Voices of the Living and the Dead at London's Keskidee Centre, with music by the reggae group Rasta Love.[24] Barrett's subsequent volumes of poetry are A Quality of Pain and Other Poems (1986) and A Memory of Rivers; Poems out of the Niger Delta (2006), both books published in Nigeria.

Barrett's second novel, Lipskybound, was published in Enugu, Nigeria, and has influenced the work of many young Nigerian writers who are interested in breaking the mould of traditional creative writing. As he himself described the work in 1972: "It is an exposition of the heart of natural vengeance in the soul of the transplanted African and of the violent nature of the truth of his spirit out of necessity."[26] Barrett's third published novel, Veils of Vengeance Falling, appeared in 1985 and has been used as a set book in the Department of English at the University of Port Harcourt.

Barrett's work has appeared in anthologies, including Black Fire: an Anthology of Afro-American Writing,[27] edited by LeRoi Jones (Imamu Amiri Baraka) and Larry Neal, and Black Arts: an Anthology of Black Creations in 1969. He wrote the foreword to a new edition of Amiri Baraka's Four Revolutionary Plays: Experimental Death Unit 1, A Black Mass, and Great Goodness of Life, Madheart, published in 1997. Barrett has been an associate editor of several periodicals, including Afriscope in Nigeria, and Transition Magazine in Uganda, and he was a contributor to seminal black British publications in the 1960s such as Daylight, Flamingo, Frontline and West Indian World. He has also contributed numerous short stories, poems, essays, and articles to journals that include Black Orpheus,[28] Negro Digest/Black World, Revolution, Two Cities, New African, Magnet, The Black Scholar, and Black Lines.


As a journalist, Barrett wrote on the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone and was the co-founder, with Tom Kamara, of the Liberian newspaper The New Democrat.[29] He was a correspondent throughout Africa for the news magazine West Africa for more than three decades. He has maintained weekly columns in several Nigerian newspapers over the years, including his widely read "From the Other Side" in the Nigerian tabloid The Sun.[30] Barrett continues to work as a political analyst and commentator on Nigerian current events. According to Ozolua Uhakheme: "In all the civil wars in the West coast of Africa, he has played the role of an interpreter of the essence for peace."[7] He has also regularly written on music, literature, film and other cultural and social issues.[31]


  • In 1970 Barrett's writing received the fifth Conrad Kent Rivers Memorial Award from the Illinois Arts Council.
  • In August 2009, Barrett's latest poetry collection, A Memory of Rivers: Poems Out of the Niger Delta, was one of nine books shortlisted for the $50,000 NLNG Prize in Nigeria.[11]


  • The State of Black Desire (three poems and three essays, illustrated by Larry Potter; Paris: Shakespeare and Co., 1966; reprinted Benin City, Nigeria: Ethiope, 1974).
  • Song for Mumu (novel; London: Longman, 1967; Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1974).
  • The Conflicting Eye (poems, published under the pseudonym Eseoghene; London: Paul Breman, 1973).
  • Lipskybound (novel; Enugu, Nigeria: Bladi House, 1977).
  • Danjuma, the Making of a General (biography; Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension, 1979).
  • Agbada to Khaki: Reporting a Change of Government in Nigeria (non-fiction, Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension, 1985).
  • Veils of Vengeance Falling (novel; Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension, 1985)
  • A Quality of Pain and Other Poems (poems; Nigeria: Gaskiya, 1986).
  • A Memory of Rivers; Poems Out of the Niger Delta (poems; Nigeria: Daylight, 2006).

Selected essays and articles[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Edward Baugh, "Song For Mumu" (review) in Caribbean Quarterly, col 13, no. 4 (December 1967), pp. 53–54.
  • Brathwaite, Edward, "West Indian Prose Fiction in the Sixties" in Black World, vol. 20, no. 11 (1971), pp. 14–29. Also in Bim and The Critical Survey.
  • Edwards, Norval "Nadi", "Lindsay Barrett (1941– )", in Daryl Cumber Dance (ed.), Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, New York: Greenwood Press, 1986, pp. 26–34.
  • Herdeck, Donald E. (ed.), "Barrett, C. Lindsay (a.k.a. Eseoghene)", in Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical-Critical Encyclopedia, Three Continents Press, 1979, pp. 25–26.
  • Royster, Philip M. "The Curse of Capitalism in the Caribbean: Purpose and Theme in Lindsay Barrett’s Song for Mumu", Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review 2.2, 1987, pp. 3–22; reprinted in Harry B. Shaw (ed.), Perspectives of Black Popular Culture, Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1990, pp. 22–35.


  1. ^ "Nigerian Author Fights Brain Drain", Jamaica Gleaner, 22 May 2011.
  2. ^ Lindsay Barrett's biographical note under his article "Can UNIDO’s agribusiness dream build peace in Africa?" Making It Magazine, 21 August 2012.
  3. ^ Lindsay Barrett, "Black History Month: Dudley Thompson, When Jamaica meets Africa", The Africa Report, 6 February 2012.
  4. ^ a b c Herdeck, Donald E. (ed.), "Barrett, C. Lindsay (a.k.a. Eseoghene)", in Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical-Critical Encyclopedia, Three Continents Press, 1979, pp. 25–26.
  5. ^ "The Transcription Centre: An Inventory of Its Records in the Manuscript Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center", Texas Archival Resources Online.
  6. ^ "Dennis Duerden collection of sound recordings relating to African novelists, poets, playwrights, artists and musicians; African history, politics, and social questions". Indiana University, Bloomington.
  7. ^ a b c d Ozolua Uhakheme, "My role in civil wars, by Lindsay Barrett", The Nation, 28 August 2011.
  8. ^ Arnold Rampersad, The Life of Langston Hughes: Volume II: 1914–1967, I Dream a World, Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 406.
  9. ^ Ted Joans, "A Memoir", Black World, September 1972, p. 17.
  10. ^ "Michel Fabre and John A. WilliamsA Street Guide to African Americans in Paris mentions a happy evening that Beauford spent here in the company of fellow painter Herb Gentry and writer Lindsay Barrett." Les Amis de Beauford Delaney.
  11. ^ a b "'09: Nine are chosen...". NLNG - The Magazine, p. 18.
  12. ^ "Potter, Larry (Hugh Lawrence). (Mount Vernon, NY, 1925-Paris, France, 1966)",
  13. ^ Michel Fabre, "Literary Coming of Age in Paris", in From Harlem to Paris: Black American Writers in France, 1840-1980, Illini Books, 1993, p. 257.
  14. ^ Negro Digest, June 1966, p. 50.
  15. ^ Hoyt W. Fuller, "World Festival of Negro Arts – Senegal fete illustrates philosophy of 'Negritude'", Ebony, Vol. 21, No. 9, July 1966, p. 104. Photograph captioned: "At poetry reading session in the American Cultural Center, Jamaican writer Lindsay Barrett provokes listeners with verse and commentary. Facing Barrett is Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko who attended reading at invitation of the Center."
  16. ^ Anote Ajeluorou, interview with Lindsay Barrett. The Guardian (Nigeria), 17 October 2009.
  17. ^ Anote Ajeluorou, "Echoes of Okigbo’s poetic legacy at Ibadan reading tour", NBF Topics, 13 May 2009.
  18. ^ a b "Barrett, Lindsay 1941–",
  19. ^ Levin, Martin. "New and Novel". Review of Song for Mumu in New York Times Books Review, 29 September 1974, Section VII:40.
  20. ^ Edward Baugh, "Song For Mumu" (review), in Caribbean Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 4 (December 1967), p. 54.
  21. ^ "Horace Ove – Filmography", Caribbean360, 5 October 2007.
  22. ^ Cast and credits, Full House [03/02/73], BFI.
  23. ^ Full House 03/02/73, BFI. Synopsis: "Canute James leads discussion among a mainly West Indian audience on West Indian culture and identity. BLACK BLAST!. James introduces 'Black Blast!' a theatre event, and its creator Lindsay Barrett*, exploring the colonisation of the Caribbean islands and its consequences through dance, mime and music (4.50). Performance of `Black Blast!' (14.27). Discussion continues on issues raised by the `event'. Edward Lucie Smith feels the piece was too simplistic and concentrated too much on race at the expense of class. Barrett disagrees (25.00)....*Note: James introduces the creator of `Black Blast!' as Esu Gayne (??); the credit Lindsay Barrett appears on the screen."
  24. ^ a b "The Keskidee – A community that discovered itself", Islington Local History Centre, 2009.
  25. ^ Lauri Ramey with Paul Breman (eds), The Heritage Series of Black Poetry, 1962–1975: A Research Compendium, Ashgate Publishing, 2008, pp. 153-4. Breman recalled: "Lindsay was an active member of London's very active black literature scene of the early 1970s, working as a journalist but prominent mostly as a playwright–I remember his Sighs of a Slave Dream performed at the Keskidee Centre in 1972, directed by his great friend Pat Amadu Maddy. The black literary scene was a very active one in the earley 1970s: Frank John, Sebastian Clarke, Rudi Kaiserman, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mukhtarr Mustapha and Cecil Rajendra, the Malaysian lawyer who was the best organizer of events, were all living and working there, and Ted Joans was a frequent visitor, relishing his role as guru. Andrew Salkey was the eminence-already-grise. There were readings by all of them, lectures by visitors such as Soyinka."
  26. ^ Black World, February 1972, p. 75.
  27. ^ "The Tide Inside, It Rages!" in Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal (eds), Black Fire; an Anthology of Afro-American Writing. New York, Morrow, 1968. WorldCat.
  28. ^ Peter Benson, Black Orpheus: Transition and Modern Cultural Awakening in Africa, University of California Press, 1986, p. 75.
  29. ^ Leroy S. Nyan, "Liberia: Reasons Why New Democrat Was Born", AllAfrica, 13 June 2012.
  30. ^ "Lindsay Barrett speaks", 3 November 2005. Coalition of Concerned Liberians, 10 December 2005.
  31. ^ Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike, quoting Lindsay Barrett's "The Image of Nigeria's Culture", in Black African Cinema, University of California Press, 1994, p. 141.

External links[edit]