Ishmael Scott Reed
is an American poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...
, essayist, and novelist. A prominent African-American literary figure, Reed is known for his satirical works challenging American political culture, and highlighting political and cultural oppression.
Reed has been described as one of the most controversial writers. While his work has often sought to represent neglected African and African-American perspectives, his energy and advocacy have centered more broadly on neglected peoples and perspectives, irrespective of their cultural origins.
Life and career
Reed was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga is the fourth-largest city in the US state of Tennessee , with a population of 169,887. It is the seat of Hamilton County...
, but grew up in Buffalo, New York
Buffalo is the second most populous city in the state of New York, after New York City. Located in Western New York on the eastern shores of Lake Erie and at the head of the Niagara River across from Fort Erie, Ontario, Buffalo is the seat of Erie County and the principal city of the...
, where he attended the University of Buffalo
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, also commonly known as the University at Buffalo or UB, is a public research university and a "University Center" in the State University of New York system. The university was founded by Millard Fillmore in 1846. UB has multiple campuses...
, a private university that became part of the state public university system after he left. The university awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1995.
In 1998, Reed spoke about his influences in an interview: "I've probably been more influenced by poets than by novelists — the Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement", named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke...
poets, the Beat poets
The Beat Generation refers to a group of American post-WWII writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, as well as the cultural phenomena that they both documented and inspired...
, the American surrealist Ted Joans
Theodore "Ted" Joans was an American trumpeter, jazz poet and painter.Joans was born in Cairo, Illinois, but not on a riverboat as had been claimed. He earned a degree in fine arts from Indiana University. He later associated with writers of the Beat Generation in Greenwich Village and San Francisco...
. Poets have to be more attuned to originality, coming up with lines and associations the ordinary prose writer wouldn't think of."
He moved to New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...
in 1962 and co-founded with the late Walter Bowart
Walter Howard Bowart was an American leader in the counterculture movement of the 1960s, founder and editor of the first underground newspaper in New York City, the East Village Other, and author of the book Operation Mind Control.-Life and career:Born Walter Howard Kirby in Omaha, Nebraska,...
the East Village Other
The East Village Other , was an American underground newspaper in New York City, New York, published biweekly during the 1960s. EVO was among the first countercultural newspapers to emerge, following the Los Angeles Free Press, which had begun publishing a few months earlier...
, a well-known underground publication. He was also a member of the Umbra Writers Workshop
Umbra was a collective of young Black writers based in Manhattan's Lower East Side founded in 1962. Major members included the following writers:*Steve Cannon*Thomas Covington Dent/Tom Dent*Al Haynes*David Henderson*Calvin C. Hernton*Joe Johnson...
, an organization among whose members were some that helped establish the Black Arts Movement
The Black Arts Movement or BAM is the artistic branch of the Black Power movement. It was started in Harlem by writer and activist Amiri Baraka...
and promoted a Black Aesthetic, although Ishmael Reed was never a participant in that movement.
In 2005, Reed retired from teaching at the University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...
, where he taught for thirty-five years. He currently lives in Oakland, California
Oakland is a major West Coast port city on San Francisco Bay in the U.S. state of California. It is the eighth-largest city in the state with a 2010 population of 390,724...
with his wife of more than 40 years, Carla Blank, the acclaimed author, choreographer, and director. His archives are located in Special Collections at the University of Delaware in Newark. His blog appears at www.sfgate.com.
Reed's published works include his ten novels:
- The Free-Lance Pallbearers (1967)
- Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down
Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, by the African-American writer Ishmael Reed, is a satirical take on the traditional Western. It is Ishmael Reed's second novel, following The Freelance Pallbearers, and was first published in 1969...
- Mumbo Jumbo (1972)
- The Last Days of Louisiana Red
The Last Days of Louisiana Red is a novel written by Ishmael Reed. It is considered a model novel of the Black Arts Movement and contains many elements of postmodernism...
- Flight to Canada (1976)
- Reckless Eyeballing (1986)
- The Terrible Twos (1982)
- The Terrible Threes (1989)
- Japanese By Spring (1993)
- Juice! (2011)
Among his other published books are: six collections of poetry, including: New and Collected Poems, 1964–2007
; eight collections of essays, most recently Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media: The Return of the Nigger Breakers
(2010); one farce, Cab Calloway Stands In for the Moon or The Hexorcism of Noxon D Awful
(1970); one libretto, Gethsemane Park
; a sampler collection, The Reed Reader
(2000); two travelogues, of which the most recent is Blues City: A Walk in Oakland
(2003); and six plays, collected by Dalkey Archive Press as Ishmael Reed, The Plays
He has also edited thirteen anthologies, the most recent of which is POW WOW, Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience—Short Fiction from Then to Now
(2009), a collection of 63 writers co-edited with Carla Blank. Spanning over 200 years of American writing, Reed in his "Foreword" calls it "a gathering of voices from the different American tribes." POW WOW
is the fiction companion anthology to From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas, 1900–2002
(2003), in which Reed endorses an open definition of American poetry as an amalgamation, which should include work found in the traditional canon
The term Western canon denotes a canon of books and, more broadly, music and art that have been the most important and influential in shaping Western culture. As such, it includes the "greatest works of artistic merit." Such a canon is important to the theory of educational perennialism and the...
of European-influenced American poetry as well as work by immigrants, hip hop artists, and Native Americans.
Since the early 1970s, Ishmael Reed has championed the work of other writers, founding and serving as editor and publisher of various small presses and journals. His current publishing imprint is Ishmael Reed Publishing Company, and his online literary magazine, Konch
, featuring poetry, essays and fiction, can be found at www.ishmaelreedpub.com. Reed is one of the producers of The Domestic Crusaders
The Domestic Crusaders is a play by Wajahat Ali about a Pakistani-American Muslim family. The play made its Off Broadway premiere at the Nuyorican Poets Café on 9/11/09. The story is about the lives of a Pakistani-American family grappling with their own internal trials and tribulations, the...
, a two-act play about Muslim Pakistani Americans written by his former student, Wajahat Ali. Its first act was performed at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Hall in Washington, D.C., on November 14, 2010, and remains archived on their website.
Honors and Awards
Two of his books have been nominated for National Book Awards, and a book of poetry, Conjure
, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His New and Collected Poems, 1964–2007
, received the Commonwealth Club of California
The Commonwealth Club of California is a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization based in Northern California. Founded in 1903, it is the oldest and largest public affairs forum in the United States...
's Gold Medal. A poem written in Seattle in 1969, “Beware Do Not Read This Poem,” has been cited by Gale Research Company as one of the approximately 20 poems that teachers and librarians have identified as the most frequently studied in literature courses. Reed’s novels, poetry and essays have been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese, Hebrew, Hungarian, Dutch, Korean, Chinese and Czech, among other languages.
Among Ishmael Reed's other honors are writing fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts. In 1995, he received the Langston Hughes Medal, awarded by City College of New York; in 1997, the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, establishing a 3-year collaboration with the Oakland based Second Start Literacy Project in 1998. In 1998, he also received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship award. In 1999, he received a Fred Cody Award from the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association, and was inducted into Chicago State University’s National Literary Hall of Fame of Writers of African Descent. Other awards include a Rene Castillo OTTO Award for Political Theatre (2002); a Phillis Wheatley Award from the Harlem Book Fair (2003); and in 2004, a Robert Kirsch Award, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, besides the D.C. Area Writing Project’s 2nd Annual Exemplary Writer’s Award and the Martin Millennial Writers, Inc. Contribution to Southern Arts Award, in Memphis, Tennessee. A 1972 manifesto inspired a major visual art exhibit, NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith
, curated by Franklin Sirmans for The Menil Collection in Houston, where it opened June 27, 2008, and subsequently traveled to P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York City, and the Miami Art Museum through 2009.
LitQuake, the annual San Francisco Literary Festival, honored Ishmael Reed with their 2011 Barbary Coast Award.
Ishmael Reed’s texts and lyrics have been performed, composed or set to music by Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler was an American avant-garde jazz saxophonist, singer and composer.Ayler was among the most primal of the free jazz musicians of the 1960s; critic John Litweiler wrote that "never before or since has there been such naked aggression in jazz" He possessed a deep blistering tone—achieved...
, David Murray
David Murray may refer to:In politics and society*David Murray, 1st Viscount of Stormont *David Murray, 4th Viscount of Stormont *Sir David Murray, 2nd Baronet *David Murray, 5th Viscount of Stormont...
, Allen Toussaint
Allen Toussaint is an American musician, composer, record producer, and influential figure in New Orleans R&B.Many of Toussaint's songs have become familiar through numerous cover versions, including "Working in the Coalmine", "Ride Your Pony", "Fortune Teller", "Play Something Sweet ", "Southern...
, Carman Moore, Taj Mahal
Henry Saint Clair Fredericks , who uses the stage name Taj Mahal, is an American Grammy Award winning blues musician. He incorporates elements of world music into his music...
, Olu Dara
Olu Dara Jones is an American cornetist, guitarist and singer.-History:...
, Lester Bowie
Lester Bowie was an American jazz trumpet player and composer. He was a member of the AACM, and cofounded the Art Ensemble of Chicago.-Biography:...
, Carla Bley
Carla Bley, née Borg, is an American jazz composer, pianist, organist and band leader. An important figure in the Free Jazz movement of the 1960s, she is perhaps best known for her jazz opera Escalator Over The Hill , as well as a book of compositions that have been performed by many other...
, Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow is a jazz double bass and bass guitarist and composer born in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.One of the leading bassists in jazz, Swallow is noted for collaborations with Jimmy Giuffre, Gary Burton and Carla Bley...
, Ravi Coltrane
Ravi Coltrane is an American post-bop jazz saxophonist. Co-owner of the record label RKM Music, he has produced artists such as pianist Luis Perdomo , guitarist David Gilmore and trumpeter Ralph Alessi....
, Leo Nocentelli, Eddie Harris, Anthony Cox, Don Pullen, Billie Bang, Bobby Womack
Robert Dwayne "Bobby" Womack is an American singer-songwriter and musician. An active recording artist since the early 1960s where he started his career as the lead singer of his family musical group The Valentinos and as Sam Cooke's backing guitarist, Womack's career has spanned more than 40...
, Milton Cardonna, Omar Sosa, Fernando Saunders, Yosvanni Terry, Jack Bruce
John Symon Asher "Jack" Bruce is a Scottish musician and songwriter, respected as a founding member of the British psychedelic rock power trio, Cream, for a solo career that spans several decades, and for his participation in several well-known musical ensembles...
, Little Jimmy Scott, Robert Jason, Alvin Youngblood Hart
Alvin Youngblood Hart is a Grammy Award-winning American musician.-Career:Born in Oakland California, Hart had family connections with Carroll County, Mississippi, and spent time there in his childhood, hearing his relatives stories of Charlie Patton, "being around these people who were there when...
, Mary Wilson
Mary Wilson is an American singer, formerlymember of the Motown female singing group The Supremes during the 1960s and 1970s. Wilson was the only singer to be a consistent member of the group in its eighteen-year tenure...
of the Supremes
The Supremes, an American female singing group, were the premier act of Motown Records during the 1960s.Originally founded as The Primettes in Detroit, Michigan, in 1959, The Supremes' repertoire included doo-wop, pop, soul, Broadway show tunes, psychedelic soul, and disco...
, Cassandra Wilson
Cassandra Wilson is an American jazz musician, vocalist, songwriter, and producer from Jackson, Mississippi. Described by critic Gary Giddins as "a singer blessed with an unmistakable timbre and attack [who has] expanded the playing field" by incorporating country, blues and folk music into her...
and others. He has been the central participant in the longest ongoing music/poetry collaboration, known as Conjure projects, produced by Kip Hanrahan on American Clavé: Conjure I
(1984) and Conjure II
(1988), which were reissued by Rounder Records
Rounder Records, originally of Cambridge, Massachusetts, but now based in Burlington, Massachusetts, is a record label founded in 1970 by Ken Irwin, Bill Nowlin and Marian Leighton-Levy, while all three were still university students...
in 1995; and Conjure Bad Mouth
(2005), whose compositions were developed in live Conjure band performances, from 2003 to 2004, including engagements at Paris’ Banlieues Bleues, London’s Barbican, and the Blue Note Café in Tokyo. The Village Voice ranked the 2005 Conjure CD one of four best spoken word albums released in 2006. In 2008, he was honored as Blues Songwriter of the Year from the West Coast Blues Hall of Fame Awards. A David Murray CD released in 2009, The Devil Tried to Kill Me
, includes two songs with lyrics by Reed: “Afrika,” sung by Taj Mahal, and the title song performed by SF based rapper, Sista Kee. September 11, 2011, in a concert at the Grande Halle in Paris, Macy Gray, Tony Allen, members of the Roots, David Murray and his Big Band, Amp Fiddler and singer/dancers from Fela!
premiered 3 new songs with lyrics by Ishmael Reed. In 2007, he made his debut as a Jazz pianist and bandleader with For All We Know
by The Ishmael Reed Quintet.
Before Columbus Foundation
Ishmael Reed is a founder of the Before Columbus Foundation, which since 1980 has annually presented the American Book Awards; the Oakland chapter of PEN; and There City Cinema, an organization that furthers the distribution and discussion of films from throughout the world.
- Sirmans, Franklin, editor. NeoHooDoo, Art for a Forgotten Faith. New Haven and London: The Menil Foundation, Inc., distributed by Yale University Press, 2008. (Includes Sirmans' interview with Reed, pp. 74–81.)
- Nishikawa, Kinohi. "Mumbo Jumbo." The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Multiethnic American Literature. Ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson. 5 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005. 1552–53.
- Mvuyekure, Pierre-Damien, with a preface by Jerome Klinkowitz. The “Dark Heathenism” of the American Novelist Ishmael Reed, African Voodoo as American Literary Hoodoo. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, Ltd., 2007
- Hume. Kathryn. American Dream American Nightmare: Fiction Since 1960. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
- Dick, Bruce Allen, editor with the assistance of Pavel Zemliansky. The Critical Response to Ishmael Reed. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999. (Includes Dick's 1997 telephone interview with Reed, pp. 228–250)
- McGee, Patrick. Ishmael Reed and the Ends of Race. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
- Ludwig, Sämi. Concrete Language: Intercultural Communication in Maxine Hong Kingston’s “The Woman Warrior” and Ishmael Reed’s “Mumbo Jumbo". Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, Cross Cultural Communication Vol. 2, 1996.
- Joyce, Joyce A. "Falling Through the Minefield of Black Feminist Criticism: Ishmael Reed, A Case in Point," Warriors, Conjurers and Priests: Defining African-centered Literary Criticism. Chicago: Third World Press, 1994.
- Nazareth, Peter. In the Trickster Tradition:The Novels of Andrew Salkey, Francis Ebejar and Ishmael Reed. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Press, 1994.
- Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
- Martin, Reginald. Ishmael Reed and the New Black Aesthetic Critics. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.
- O'Brien, John, editor. The Review of Contemporary Fiction Volume 4, Number 2, Summer, 1984. "Juan Goytisolo and Ishmael Reed Number"(Includes articles and interviews with Reed by Reginald Martin, Franco La Polla, Jerry H. Bryant, W.C. Bamberger, Joe Weixlmann, Peter Nazareth, James R. Lindroth, Geoffrey Green and Jack Byrne.)
- McConnell, Frank. "Da Hoodoo is Put on America," in Black Fiction, New Studies in the Afro-American Novel Since 1945, edited by A. Robert Lee. NY: Barnes & Noble Books, 1980.
- Ludwig, Samuel. "Ishmael Reed". The Literary Encyclopedia. 18 December 2002. Accessed 6 March 2010.