Author of twenty-eight published books to date, Ishmael Reed is a novelist, poet, playwright, and essayist. He is also a publisher, editor of thirteen anthologies and numerous magazines, television producer, public media commentator, teacher and lecturer. His online international literary magazine Konch, featuring poetry, essays and fiction, can be found at www.ishmaelreedpub.com. His San Francisco Chronicle blog is located at www.sfgate.com. LitQuake, the San Francisco Literary Festival, has named Ishmael Reed as recipient of their 2011 Barbary Coast Award, with an award event on October 12 at San Francisco’s Z Space.
Juice!, Reed’s tenth novel was published by Dalkey Archive Press in April, 2011, and includes over twenty of his original cartoons, including the cover art. In 2010, Reed’s most recent essay collection, Barack Obama and The Jim Crow Media, Or The Return of the “Nigger Breakers, was published by Canada’s Baraka Press. His 2009 publications include Ishmael Reed, the plays, a collection of his six plays (Dalkey Archive Press), and Powwow, Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience: Short Fiction From Then to Now (Da Capo Press), an anthology edited by Reed with Carla Blank. Forthcoming new works are: The Fighter and the Writer: Two American Stories, a non-fiction work from Random House, and Brawls, a new book of essays.
In 2008, Da Capo Press published Mixing It Up: Taking On The Media Bullies & Other Reflections, an essay collection. New and Collected Poems, 1964-2006 (Carroll & Graf, 2006), released in a revised paperback edition, New and Collected Poems, 1964-2007 (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2007), was listed as one of the four best books of poetry published in 2006 by The New York Times Book Review, and in June, 2007, was awarded the Commonwealth Club’s California Gold Medal in Poetry. Three books written or edited by Reed were published in 2003: Thunder’s Mouth Press published From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas, 1900-2002 which Library Journal called “outstanding” and “one of the four best poetry anthologies of 2003”; the Perseus division of Basic Books published a collection of Reed’s essays, Another Day at the Front; and The Crown Publishing Group published his non-fiction travel book, Blues City: A Walk in Oakland. In 2000, Basic Books published The Reed Reader, a collection of his writing including excerpts from novels, selected essays, published and previously unpublished poetry, and two plays, Hubba City and The Preacher and the Rapper. Popular anthologies he has edited include MultiAmerica: Essays in Cultural War and Cultural Peace (Viking, 1997), and the four-volume Literary Mosaic Series (HarperCollinsCollege, 1995-96). Other books by Reed include nine novels: Japanese By Spring, The Terrible Twos, The Terrible Threes, Reckless Eyeballing, Mumbo Jumbo, The Last Days of Louisiana Red, Flight to Canada, Yellow-Back Radio Broke-Down, and The Free-Lance Pallbearers; and collected essays Another Day at the Front, Airing Dirty Laundry and Writin’ is Fightin’.
Ishmael Reed’s texts and lyrics have been performed, composed or set to music by Albert Ayler, David Murray, Allan Touissant, Carman Moore, Taj Mahal, Olu Dara, Lester Bowie, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Ravi Coltrane, Leo Nocentelli, Eddie Harris, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Bobby Womack, Milton Cardonna, Omar Sosa, Jack Bruce, Little Jimmy Scott, Robert Jason, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Mary Wilson of the Supremes 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 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 most recent Conjure CD one of four best spoken word albums released in 2006. Sacred Ground, a 2007 independent film with a score by David Murray, includes Reed’s lyrics for the title track and “Prophet of Doom,” with vocal by Cassandra Wilson, and was selected for Sundance Film Festival and PBS television station airings. Two of the film’s pieces were first performed by Ishmael Reed on his privately produced CD, For All We Know (2007), along with nine jazz standards and one other original collaboration with David Murray, who appears as a performer in the Ishmael Reed Quintet, which includes Reed on piano, Roger Glenn on flute, Chris Planas on guitar, and Carla Blank on violin. 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. On 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.
Two of Reed’s books have been nominated for National Book Awards, and a book of poetry, Conjure, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. In 1998 he received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and in 1997 he received the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, for which he established a 3-year collaboration with the Oakland based Second Start Literacy Project in 1998. In 2002, he received a Rene Castillo OTTO Award for Political Theatre. In 2003 he received a Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award, and a Phillis Wheatley Award from the Harlem Book Fair. In 2004, he was honored with a Robert Kirsch Award, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize; the D.C. Area Writing Project’s 2nd Annual Exemplary Writer’s Award; the Martin Millennial Writers, Inc. Contribution to Southern Arts Award, in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1999 he received a Fred Cody Award from the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association and became an inductee of Chicago State University’s National Literary Hall of Fame of Writers of African Descent; he received a Langston Hughes Medal, awarded by City College of New York (1995); and has received writing fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts.
A 1972 manifesto inspired a major visual art exhibit and book, “NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith,” curated by Franklin Sirmans for The Menil Collection in Houston, where it opened June 27, 2008, and, through 2009, subsequently traveled to P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York City and the Miami Art Museum. 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. Harold Bloom designated Mumbo Jumbo one of the 500 important books of the Western canon.
Reed lives in Oakland’s Inner City with his wife, Carla Blank, a writer, choreographer, and director. He has two daughters, both writers, named Timothy Reed and Tennessee Reed. Reed is a founder and chairman of the board of Before Columbus Foundation, which annually presents the American Book Awards, and also currently contributes to his community through his neighborhood association and PEN Oakland’s media watch. His archives are maintained at the University of Delaware’s Special Collections, in Newark, Delaware.
American Indian and African American folklore
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