Ishmael Reed Essay, Research Paper
Ishmael Reed, together with Toni Morrison, is one of today’s pre-eminent African American literary figures–perhaps the most widely reviewed since Ralph Ellison, and, along with Samuel Delany and Amiri Baraka, probably the most controversial.
-Ishmael Reed began writing his own jazz column for Empire State, a weekly African American newspaper in Buffalo, NY
Post Open in 192. Since the publication of his first novel, The Free-Lance Pallbearers, in 1967, Reed has thus far produced seven novels, four books of poetry, two collections of essays, numerous reviews and critical articles, and has edited two major anthologies. Reed’s literary style is best known for its use of parody and satire in attempts to create new myths and to challenge the formal conventions of literary tradition. Reed’s works have alternately been criticized as incoherent, muddled, and abstruse, and hailed as multicultural, revolutionary, vivid, and containing a deep awareness of mythic archetypes.
Born 1938 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Ishmael Reed grew up in working class neighborhoods in Buffalo, New York. He attended Buffalo public schools and the University of Buffalo. He moved to New York City,where he cofounded the East Village Other (1965), an underground newspaper that achieved a national reputation. Also that year he organized the American Festival of Negro Art. As well as being a novelist, poet, and essayist, he is a songwriter, television producer, publisher, magazine editor, playwright, and founder of the Before Columbus Foundation and There City Cinema, both of which are located in northern California. He has taught at Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth, and for twenty years he has been a lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley, He lives in Oakland, California.
Since the publication of his first novel, The Free-Lance Pallbearers (1967), Reed has devoted himself to the production of a substantial body of literature – fiction, poetry and essays – which has as its consistent objective the satirizing of American political, religious and literary repression. His literary subversion has expressed itself in parodies of political realities: the racism and greed of the Reagan era in The Terrible Twos (1982) and the recent Japanese by Spring (1993), fundamentalist Christian white supremacist values in The Terrible Threes (1989) and parodies of literary forms themselves, western pulp novels in Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (1969), slave narratives in Flight To Canada (1976), and detective fiction in Mumbo Jumbo (1972) which pits proponents of rationalism and militarism against believers in the magical and intuitive, The Last Days of Louisiana Red (1974). (complete bibliography below).
Mumbo Jumbo (1972) was the work that first achieved wide notoriety for the author, and it is considered by several scholars to be his best, along with Flight to Canada (1976). Two of Reed’s books have been nominated for National Book Awards, and he has received numerous honors, fellowships, and prizes, including the Lewis H. Michaux Literary Prize, awarded to him in 1978 by the Studio Museum in Harlem.