Thoughts on the UCI memorial for Prof. Lindon Barrett

The cover of the memorial pamphlet

Last Tuesday afternoon, under a hot late afternoon sun at the Phineas Banning Alumni House on the UCI campus, where I’d last attended an event 15 years previously, I was among the many who gathered to honor the life and memory of Lindon Barrett. My initial blog entry has further details if you are unfamiliar with him or his work.

After initially sitting near the front and to the side, I suddenly realized the seat I had chosen had been reserved for another and retreated to the rear, which to be honest was something that I felt more comfortable with. As I have said numerous times, the connection of my name and his was more an accident of history above all else, and in tragic circumstances. For all that I felt that attending was, quite simply, the proper thing to do, the right thing, and I feel no need to elucidate further.

There were many faces I recognized in the gathering, and of the long list of speakers, I knew over half via grad school or my professional work at UCI. And through all the speakers — coworkers, friends, mentors, former students, colleagues — I learned, as I think we all did, about Prof. Barrett.

The life of a person is not measured in the simple matter of achievements noted and accomplishments that are easily summarized. To say that Prof. Barrett was a scholar with an already extensive series of pieces published as well as one full book with another on the way is apt and accurate, but only part of the story. Likewise his work in establishing a full academic program at UCI and then leading it until he felt he could go no further in his interactions with the university, looking to newer possibilities at UC Riverside, where he worked and taught for one full academic year, too short a time. These are the marks of a successful and driven soul, no question, and are to be rightfully acknowledged.

But as I sat and listened — I considered taking some photographs but decided against it, thinking some moments are best left in shared memories — I learned, for what seemed like the first time though I’d already heard many anecdotes and stories already, about not Prof. Barrett, but, simply, Lindon. And this was knowledge that, tempered with grief and humor, regrets and happiness, truly made me understand just how much of an impact he had made on so many, on so many levels.

The key sense was almost a cliche of a word — variety. By which I mean — each presenter had their own slant, their own style and vision and thoughts of Lindon. For all the commonalities there were also individual moments, and as each person themselves was their own person, equally complex, so too did the kaleidoscope of Prof. Barrett’s life reassemble and represent itself, ever evolving. From John Carlos Rowe’s heartfelt praise of his professional accomplishments to Fred Moten’s understated, wry humor and sad wish for a now lost chance to make up a moment that had divided them, from Donna Iliescu’s deeply moving memories to Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan’s tales of hearty drinks and humor, from Winston James’s last vision of Lindon speeding away down the street in his Lexus to, lastly and understandably most wrenchingly, brief thoughts from his family in attendance — to speak of that grief is beyond my capability — in all this, one sensed Lindon Barrett in a completer sense than ever before.

To single out one moment, not as the defining one but as the one that stays with me — Dwight McBride, who had kindly commented on my original blog entry, elaborated on his emotions and memories from there, speaking of the importance of Lindon to him as a role model, friend and colleague. He touched on everything from Prof. Barrett’s wicked wit to his elaborations of living theory and politics in all one does, and in doing so also touched on a common obsession Prof. Barrett and I had — music. Now, I would not presume to say we engaged in music in the same way — he might likely have found my preference for contemplation and sonic destabilization not his thing! — but in learning from Prof. McBride’s memories, as from others as well, how much singing, lyrics, performance was part of his life and work, I found myself more understanding of not only how he loved music but loved it as part of the whole that the world can offer.

In my own small way, fitfully, on this blog, I hope to have illustrated that I may have my own particular fascination but that I am not a one-line caricature — not that I am anything stunningly special and unique in turn, I hasten to add! I am almost certainly more of a familiar type than I will ever know. But I kick against expectations as I can, hopefully unconsciously — but more consciously on here, where I try and underscore that I am not simply a ‘music’ guy by any stretch of the imagination, say.

In contrast, for Prof. Barrett music was not where he earned his reputation, it was the realms of critical theory, race and the scarring of racism, queer theory and more besides. But music, especially in the social and the shared sense, was for him, I sense all the more now, vital — it makes sense that the valedictory quote on the back of the program, accompanied by a brief snippet of Prof. Barrett’s own thoughts on the writer, comes from Ann Petry’s The Street:

It was three o’clock when the rainbow-colored light stopped moving over the dance floor. There was a final blast from the trumpets and the orchestra men began stowing music into the cases that held their instruments. The people filed out of the big hall slowly, reluctantly. The ornate staircase was choked with them, for they walked close to each other as though still joined together by the memory of the music and the dancing.

As he spoke of his memories of Prof. Barrett, Prof. McBride then took the opportunity to sing from a favorite song of theirs, unaccompanied. It was a beautiful moment, just Prof. McBride’s voice and ourselves, in the dying heat of the day, a silence in the air if not in ourselves perhaps, as he sung a standard made famous by Nat King Cole and Dinah Washington, “For All We Know”:

For all we know we may never meet again
Before you go make this moment sweet again
We won’t say good night until the last minute
I’ll hold out my hand and my heart will be in it

For all we know this may only be a dream
We come and go like a ripple on a stream
So love me tonight; tomorrow was made for some
Tomorrow may never come for all we know

In a gathering where all assembled who knew him and loved him had one awful, terrible thing in common — no chance to say goodbye — it cut to the core.

My thanks to all who organized the event and for all the kind words I received as we all talked, reflected and, in the words of Prof. James, enjoyed a libation in Lindon’s memory.

A quick note on the memorials for Prof. Lindon Barrett

Tomorrow is the first of two memorials to Prof. Barrett being held in Southern California. My full post on Prof. Barrett can be read here. The memorial information from there, slightly edited:

The UCI memorial details, as posted on the African American Studies site:

THE MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR LINDON BARRETT WILL TAKE PLACE ON SEPTEMBER 30, 2008 AT THE UCI ALUMNI HOUSE FROM 4PM-7PM.

Directions to the Alumni House are available here. A link to a campus map is included. UCI Parking information can be found here.

The UCR memorial details for Prof. Barrett:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008
4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Location: Alumni & Visitor’s Center

Parking Information

Open to: Public
Admission: Free
Sponsor: English Department

Contact Information:
Susan Brown
(951) 827-1456
susan.brown@ucr.edu

—-

My thanks again to Marie S. for providing this information.

RIP Lindon Barrett [including memorial and tribute information]

[DECEMBER 29, 2009 UPDATE -- I have just received word of this report from the Long Beach Press-Telegram regarding the suspect who had been held for trial.]

[NEW OVERALL INTRO, TUESDAY EVENING, JULY 22, 2008 -- Earlier this evening (a beautiful and serene one, even by Southern California standards) Prof. Barrett's ashes were scattered in the Pacific in keeping with his wishes. My own reflections on tonight and the past week may be read here (this was written and linked the following day).

This blog post should now be considered a further, unofficial general information location dedicated to the memory of Prof. Barrett, with the 'main' text appearing first, in the form I left it in on Wednesday July 16, and overall links and updates to memorial plans, tributes and similar news following in separate sections below that. If anything of immediate importance needs to be added or changed, I will have a brief headline at the top of the blog run for a limited amount of time indicating what this is.

Please feel free to visit or link to this site as you see appropriate, as well as suggesting changes or additions via comments or direct e-mail.

Thanks very much, and let me thank everyone, especially Prof. Barrett's cousins Ann and Kizzy, for all their many kind comments over this past week -- I have tried to my best, and will continue to do so.]

—-

It’s with great sadness I pass on news of the passing of Lindon Barrett, who taught in the UCI English and Comp Lit department during my years as a grad student there in the early to mid 1990s. Dan Tsang here at UCI passed on the initial news via a post on his Subversity radio show site, as well as an e-mail note he sent out to a number of people Monday night, including KUCI staff members and alumni, which is how I heard of the tragedy. The OC Register’s College Life blog had one of the first formal reports on Tuesday morning, including comments from Dan and Prof. Barrett’s fellow academics James Tobias, George Haggerty and Jennifer Doyle. On Wednesday afternoon, the College Life blog posted this further update indicating a formal report on Prof. Barrett’s passing may not be due for some time due to the necessity of a toxicology screen. The chair of UCR’s English Department, Katherine Kinney, issued this statement on Tuesday; at UCI, the Dean of Humanities, Vicki Ruiz, also issued a statement. Further news reports have also now appeared as of Wednesday morning at the LA Times and the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

Prof. Barrett had most recently been working at UC Riverside, where a memorial page via the English department may be found. His old UC Irvine page may be found here, and Google Books offers up pages of his book Blackness and Value. Retired UCI librarian Eddie Yeghiayan has compiled an overall bibliography of Prof. Barrett’s professional work and made it available as a PDF download via Dan Tsang’s Subversity blog.

Prof. Barrett’s areas of interest did not dovetail directly with my area of research while in the English department and so I did not take any courses with him, and at most we only ever exchanged a few brief words at the time. But as you can see from his photos on the pages he was impossible to miss when over at the department, a striking looking man who always carried himself with a strong sense of grace and power in equal measure. The fact that he was an associate editor for the academic journal Callaloo for three years, from 1997 to 2000, gives a sense of how he was regarded both in the fields of literary criticism and African American Studies; he was director of the latter program at UCI from 2004 to 2007, and there will be many people on the campus who will be grieving.

Over the years a number of people who I knew and/or worked with during grad school have passed on, including two of my advisors, Al Wlecke and Homer Brown, gracious and intelligent gentlemen both. Prof. Barrett’s death now adds to that sad total.

My condolences to his friends and family and all those who were his students and close colleagues.

—-

Prof. Barrett’s family released this obituary via the Winnipeg Free Press a few days after the initial news:

http://www.passagesmb.com/obituary_details.cfm?ObitID=138240

His cousin Kizzy posted this statement on Facebook shortly beforehand:

I am Lindon’s cousin and on behalf of the family we send our heartfelt thanks to his friends and students in Los Angeles, and elsewhere. We are also very grateful for the love and support of friends who have called and visited during this difficult time.

He was a man of independent thought and was fearless in his views. He told you what he thought, made you think, but also made you laugh. He loved his family and friends and would turn up for a visit surprising them and making the most of every moment.

Lindon loved to spend time looking out over the Pacific Ocean and in accordance with his wishes, he will be cremated and returned to the sea. A memorial service will be held in Winnipeg at a later date.

A bright light has gone out, but he will be remembered forever.

Flowers are gratefully declined. Because of Lindon’s love of reading, if so desired a donation to the Winnipeg Public Library or a charity encouraging literacy would be most appreciated.

If you would like to make a donation in Prof. Barrett’s name, here are some recommended options:

The Winnipeg Public Library’s donation page is here:

http://wpl.winnipeg.ca/library/contact/donations.asp

I have spoken with Arthur Cohen at the WPL — he sends his condolences to all. He has confirmed that all currencies are welcome and that conversion to Canadian dollars are not needed; also he has confirmed that electronic submissions such as PayPal are not available at the present time, so please print out the form as the page indicates and send a check or money order. Thanks to Arthur for this information.

An initial resource page for other charities supporting literacy can be found at this blog entry at the Well-Read Child.

On Facebook, Tara has also suggested further donations to the Long Beach Public Library since, to quote her, “There are a lot of local youths who would really benefit from that.” I fully concur, and recommend the Long Beach Public Library Foundation in particular:

http://lbplfoundation.org/

To quote its mission statement, “The Long Beach Public Library Foundation dedicates itself to raise funds to provide supplemental programs that assist the Long Beach Public Library to promote literacy and meet the educational and informational needs of our culturally diverse community.” Its donation information page is here:

http://www.lbplfoundation.org/support.html

Also on Facebook, Benjamin Huang has suggested, to quote his post, “Room to Read, which promotes the development of children’s libraries in native languages in Africa (South Africa and Zambia) and Asia (Vietnam, Nepal, etc.). Founded by a former Microsoft executive, it is a nonprofit which is unaffiliated with any governmental or religious organization.” Its link is:

http://www.roomtoread.org/countries/index.html

Any further suggestions for links or updates to these sites are gratefully encouraged.

On Monday morning July 21, Dan Tsang, host of the show Subversity on KUCI, broadcast a memorial show to Prof. Barrett. In-studio guests included former UCI Ph.D students Arnold Pan (now teaching at UCI) and Lelia Neti (now at Occidental College) as well as Jamie Park, a former UCI undergraduate student now pursuing her Ph.D at UCR. Calling in were Katherine Kinney, who chairs the English department at UC Riverside, and her UCR colleague, George Haggerty, as well as Prof. Winston James, a former chair of the African American studies program at UCI. Many statements from friends and colleagues were read over the air during the hour long show.

The show was a copresentation with KUCR in Riverside. You may access a podcast of the show directly via this link:

http://www.kuci.org/podcastfiles/600/Sv080721.mp3

The overall archive Subversity podcast archive may also be used.

Further memorials to Prof. Barrett’s life were held at UCI on September 30 and at UCR on October 1. My thoughts on the UCI memorial may be read here.

MLA 2009 PANEL INFORMATION — Benjamin Huang posted this suggestion on the Facebook group: “According to the MLA website, July 25th is the deadline for a Call for Papers for the 2009 Convention for the Fall 2008 Newsletter. Is there an Americanist out there familiar enough with Lindon’s work who could write a CFP and head up a panel?”

In comments below, Jennifer Brody responded: “I would be willing to organize a panel for next year’s MLA. I can write a call for papers on “Blackness and Value” which was published in 1999–which seems fitting. Thank you.” She has since confirmed that this has been sent to the MLA and encourages everyone to look for the call in the MLA newspaper.

A list of links to tributes follows:

I would also be very happy to post links to any further remembrances or tributes to Prof. Barrett as they appear; the comments I’ve received on this post and other comments I’ve noticed elsewhere, as well as some brief private discussion, emphasizes how much more directly and closely others worked with him and felt inspired and energized by him than I ever had the opportunity to do. Theirs, not mine, should be the words and memories that describe the professor and the man, and they should receive the most attention.

On December 25, 2009, the man accused and held for trial in the passing of Prof. Barrett was found dead at LA County Men’s Central Jail. He had been scheduled to go to trial on January 22, 2010.

Finally, this was one of a set of flowers left at the door of Prof. Barrett’s apartment building by his friends and colleagues:

Flowers for Lindon

Rest in peace.

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