Ishmael Reed

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Ishmael Scott Reed (February 22, 1938) is an American poet, essayist and novelist. Reed is one of the best-known African American writers of his generation, and along wth Amiri Baraka is one of the most controversial (and politically left-wing). His work consistently satirizes the American right-wing (and often the left as well), highlighting domestic political and cultural oppression. While some have found Reed's work a vivid, comic depiction of non-white America, others have criticized it as incoherent or muddled. Another group of scholars has argued that some of Reed's work is misogynistic.

Reed was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but grew up in Buffalo, New York, where he attended the University at Buffalo. While enrolled, he cohosted a radio program, which was cancelled after an interview with Malcolm X.

He moved to New York City in 1962 and helped establish the East Village Other, a well-known underground publication. He was also a member of the Umbra Writers Workshop, an organization that helped establish the Black Arts movement and promoted a Black Aesthetic.

Reed's best-known works include The Free-Lance Pallbearers (1967, Reed's first novel), Mumbo-Jumbo (1972), Flight to Canada (1976), and The Last Days of Louisiana Red (1974). He has published more than a dozen books, including nine novels, four collections of poetry, six plays, four collections of essays, and one libretto.

He also edited From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas, 1900-2002 (2003) where he endorses an open definition of American poetry as an amalgamation, which should include work found in the traditional canon of European-influenced American poetry as well as work by immigrants, hip hop artists, and Native Americans.

Reed currently lives in Oakland, California. In 1998, he received a MacArthur Fellowship, and has recently retired from teaching at the University of California, Berkeley.

Selected works

  • The Freelance Pallbearers, 1967
  • Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, 1969
  • Mumbo-Jumbo, 1972
  • Neo-HooDoo Manifesto, 1972
  • Conjure: Selected Poems, 1963-1970, 1972
  • Chattanooga: Poems, 1973
  • The Last Days of Louisiana Red, 1974
  • Flight to Canada, 1976
  • Secretary to the Spirits, 1978
  • Shrovetide in Old New Orleans: Essays, 1978
  • The Terrible Twos, 1982
  • God Made Alaska for the Indians: Selected Essays, 1982
  • Reckless Eyeballing, 1986
  • New and Collected Poetry,1988
  • Writing is Fighting: Thirty-Seven Years of Boxing on Paper, 1988
  • The Terrible Threes, 1989
  • Before Columbus Foundation Fiction Anthology: Selections from the American Book Awards 1980-1990
  • Tell My Horse : Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica, 1990?
  • Airing Dirty Laundry, 1993
  • Japanese by Spring, 1993
  • Conversations with Ishmael Reed, ed. Amritjit Singh and Bruce Dick, 1995
  • Blues City: A Walk in Oakland, 2003

See also

  • African American literature
  • Ishmael Reed by Spring
  • 1986, 1988 audio interviews with Ishmael Reed by Don Swaim
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