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Summary Article: Ishmael Reed (1938–)
from African American Almanac
Novelist, Poet

Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on February 22, 1938, Reed grew up in Buffalo, New York. He attended State University of New York at Buffalo from 1956 to 1960. He later worked as a reporter, taught at different institutions as guest lecturer, and co-founded Reed Cannon & Johnson Communication Company in 1975.

Reed is among the most controversial of African American writers and is often seen as misogynistic and cynical. He seeks to create an alternative black reality through a philosophy and process he calls neohoodooism. Reed's first volume of poetry published in the United States, Conjure (1972), which offers a working display of neohoodooism, was nominated for the National Book Award, as was his third novel, Mumbo Jumbo (1972). He has also published Chattanooga (1973), a second volume of poetry, and novels: The Freelance Pallbearers (1967); Yellow Back Radio Broke Down (1989); The Last Days of Louisiana Red (1974); Flight to Canada (1976); The Terrible Threes (1989); and Japanese by Spring (1992).

Reed published in the 1980s, The Terrible Twos (1982), a political satire; and Reckless Eye-balling (1986), a farce in which the sinister Flower Phantom punishes feminists for defaming black manhood. Both novels were reissued in paperback in 1988 by Atheneum Publishers. Reed's books of essays include editorials and book reviews such as Shrovetide in Old New Orleans (1978), God Made Alaska for the Indians: Selected Essays (1983), Writin’ Is Fightin’: ThirtySeven Years of Boxing on Paper (1988), and Airing Dirty Laundry (1993), and Reed edited Multi-America: Essays on Cultural Wars and Cultural Peace in 1997.

Reed has challenged his talent in many directions, from novelist, poet, and essayist to songwriter, television producer, publisher, and playwright. He has taught at Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth, and he has lectured at the University of California for over twenty years. He has received numerous prizes such as the Lewis H. Michaux Literary Prize in 1978, fellowships from the Wisconsin Board and Yale University's Calhoun College in 1982, and grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and the MacArthur Foundation.

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