Ishmael Reed is an African American novelist, essayist, playwright, satirist, editor, publisher, and poet. He was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on February 22, 1938 to Henry Lenoir and Thelma Coleman. Lenoir and Coleman moved to Buffalo, New York where Reed grew up. When his mother divorced Lenoir and married Bennie Reed, Ishmael took his stepfather's last name.
Reed enrolled in Millard Fillmore College in New York in 1956, taking night courses. Eventually he transferred to day classes at University of Buffalo with the encouragement of his English instructor. He attended the University of Buffalo between 1956 and 1960. Unfortunately due to financial reasons Reed withdrew and did not receive a degree. Although later, in 1995, the University of Buffalo (now the State University of New York at Buffalo) awarded him an honorary Doctorate in Letters. In 1962 Reed moved to New York's Lower East Side and started a career as a journalist. In 1967, after he published his first novel, The Freelance Pallbearers, Reed moved to San Francisco, California.
By 1995, Reed had written a number of works, the most influential of which was Mumbo Jumbo, in 1972. In addition to nine novels, Reed has written five books of poetry, four essay collections, four plays, and edited four anthologies. He also established publishing companies named Reed, Cannon, and Johnson Publications, and I. Reed books. Reed is the confounder of the Before Columbus Foundation which produces and distributes work of unknown ethnic writers.
Ishmael Reed's writing is diverse in medium as well as in style. He writes about the black experience and how it permeates American culture. He has often written satire and parody, and his work challenges conventional structures of the novel. He names paintings, architecture, and music as influences on his work. He calls himself a classicist, although he uses more experimental forms of writing in his fiction.
Reed taught at a number of institutions during his career including, the University of California Berkeley, the University of Washington, Seattle, State University of New York Buffalo, Yale University, Dartmouth College, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Columbia University, and Harvard University. It was his stint at the University of Washington that sparked Reed's resentment towards white dominated university academia, and many of his works reflect this cynicism. The University of Washington refused him a tenured position.
Ishmael is married to Carla Blank, his second wife. He has two daughters, Tennessee and Timothy Brett and the family currently resides in Oakland, California.
Caroline Bokinsky, “Ishmael Reed.” Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Poets Since WWII. Vol. 5 Part 2, Donald J. Greiner, Editor, (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1980); Joyce Pettis, “Ishmael Reed.” African American Poets: Lives, Works, and Sources. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002); Robert Elliot Fox, Modern American Poetry: About Ishmael Reed's Life and Career. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/reed/about.htm> retrieved on 2009-03-04;
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