Ishmael Reed (1938-)

American novelist and poet. Reed’s writing reflects his belief that the black American writer should function as a kind of conjurer of what Reed calls ‘neo-hoodoo,’ an attempt to pry the distinct qualities of Afro-American culture loose from Euro-American culture. In a language composed of black dialects, standard English, and hip jargon, he writes angry satires on an American society corrupted by racism and uncontrolled technology. Among his novels are The Free-Lance Pallbearers (1967), Mumbo Jumbo (1972), Flight to Canada (1976), The Terrible Twos (1982), and Japanese by Spring (1993). His verse collections include Conjure (1972) and Secretary to the Spirits (1975). Other works include Shrovetide in Old New Orleans (1978), occasional writings; Hell Hath No Fury (1980), a play; The Terrible Threes (1990), a collection of short stories; and Airing Dirty Laundry (1993), containing memoirs.

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

[Addendum: Ishmael Reed entered my cultural cosmology when I heard the the percussionist and producer Kip Hanrahan’s projects to set Mr. Reed’s poetry to music,  the first of which, Conjure (named for one of Mr. Reed’s books of verse) appeared in 1983. I continue to listen to that record regularly, now 35 years later. Two more records from Conjure have appeared, Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon (1988) and a two-disc set, Bad Mouth, released in 2006.]

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