When Ishmael Reed gets celebrated these days, now that he's well past age seventy, it's usually for the work he did decades ago. The novels that enjoy broadest critical approval are Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (1969) and Mumbo Jumbo (1972), two comic and surreal historical revisions. Reed was hailed as the great African-American among our homegrown postmoderns (Thomas Pynchon gave him a tip of the cap in Gravity's Rainbow), if not our foremost black novelist. Esteem like that no longer flutters around his name, but the author himself was the first to shoo it away. He derided such praise as racist.
Racism, for Reed, remains a sickness badly diagnosed. A 1988 selection of essays bore the title Writin' Is Fightin', and the opponent in many cases was some crude misrepresentation of African-Americans or other minorities. His argument lies primarily with the media—literary tastemakers, the white conquerors who wrote the history books, and the kingpins of TV and the movies who think they know black experience (recently he lashed out at both The Wire and Precious for their ghetto stereotypes). So he edited the anthology MultiAmerica: Essays on Culture Wars and Cultural Peace (1996), intended as a corrective. So too, with greater energy and less interest in healing, he's brought out a brilliantly sustained rant of a new novel, JUICE!