Ishmael (Scott) Reed 1938–
See also, Ishmael Reed Criticism and CLC, Vols. 3, 5, 6, 13 and 174.
(Has also written under pseudonym of Emmett Coleman) Black American novelist, poet, essayist, editor, and critic.
One of the leading satirists in contemporary black literature, Reed is best known for those novels in which he examines politics, religion, and technology as repressive forces. Although the central target of his work is Western civilization, Reed's primary concern in his writings is the establishment of an alternative black aesthetic. His new aesthetic, termed Neo-HooDoo, focuses on such ancient rites as conjuring, magic, and voodoo. Reed contends that by reclaiming these primordial rituals, black Americans and third world peoples will purge themselves of Western conditioning and will ultimately regain their freedom and mystic vision. Reed identifies this process as necromancy. In an interview, he stated that "people go into the past and get some metaphor from the past to explain the present or the future. Necromancers used to lie in the guts of the dead or in tombs to receive visions of the future. The black writer lies in the guts of old America, making readings about the future."
Reed's parodies of literary genres produce a combination of the ridiculous and the didactic. His first novel, The Free-Lance Pallbearers (1967), is structured as a nineteenth-century Gothic Bildungsroman. The young hero in the novel undergoes a chaotic search for self-awareness and purpose in a society obsessed with power. In Yellow Back Radio Broke Down (1969), Reed introduces his Neo-HooDoo concept. The novel is a spoof of the Western "dime" novel fused with allegory, contemporary urban culture, and history. Reed extends his Neo-HooDoo concept in Mumbo Jumbo (1972) and The Last Days of Louisiana Red (1974). Both novels are mysteries in which a voodoo detective, Papa LaBas, attempts to combat the spells and charms cast by the white establishment to anesthetize the artistic and political black communities. Houston A. Baker contended that Mumbo Jumbo offers "a conspiracy view of history, a critical handbook for the student of the black arts, and a guide for the contemporary black consciousness intent on the discovery of its origins and meaning." Other critics, however, proposed that Reed's attempt to promote Neo-HooDoo obstructed his creative process and feared that his work was becoming repetitious and rhetorical. In his novels Flight To Canada (1976) and The Terrible Twos (1982), Reed abandons Neo-HooDoo for zany farce, complete with the irony and hilarious dialogues that are trademarks of his earlier work.
Reed has also published several volumes of poetry and two collections of essays devoted to black culture. In addition, he founded a publishing company devoted to producing and distributing works of unknown ethnic artists.
(See also CLC, Vols. 2, 3, 5, 6, 13; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 2, 5, 33.)