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About Ishmael Reed

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Ishmael Reed is a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, cartoonist, songwriter, public media commentator, lecturer, publisher, musician, and composer, who is author of more than thirty books. To commemorate its 50 years in print, Scribner released a new edition of Reed’s third novel, Mumbo Jumbo in 2022, including a new Introduction by Reed. Literary critic Harold Bloom cited Mumbo Jumbo as one of 500 great books of the Western Canon, to which literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr. added "Mumbo Jumbo would be among my top 10 books of all time."

The Terrible Fours, the third novel in Reed’s “Terribles” series, was published by Baraka Books of Montreal in 2021. Why the Black Hole Sings the Blues, his most recent poetry collection, was published in 2020 by Dalkey Archive Press, which published his eleventh novel, Conjugating Hindi, in 2018. Also in 2020, his latest non-fiction work, Malcolm and Me, was published by Audible, with Reed as narrator; Audible published Reed’s second audio book, a short story, The Fool Who Thought Too Much, in 2020 and released a novella, The Man Who Haunted Himself, in November 2022. Baraka Books published Reed’s latest essay collection, Why No Confederate Statues in Mexico, in 2019. Other recent releases include Archway Editions publications of his plays, "The Haunting of Lin Manuel Miranda (2020)," "Life Among the Aryans (2022)," "The Final Version (2022)," and "The Slave Who Loved Cavaiar (2023)." His twelfth play, "The Conductor," premiered at the Off-off Broadway's Theater for the New City in March 2023. His thirteenth play, "The Shine Challenge 2024," premiered in a virtual reading hosted by the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in February 2024. 

Ishmael Reed has championed the work of other writers, as founder of the Before Columbus Foundation and PEN Oakland, non-profit organizations run by writers for writers and, since the early 1970s, as founding editor and publisher of various small presses and journals. His current publishing imprint is Ishmael Reed Publishing Company.  His online quarterly international literary magazine, Konch, can be found at

Recipient of the Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Achievement Award and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2022, Reed is a MacArthur Fellow, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Awardee and one of a handful of authors who were nominated for the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize in the same year. Other honors include the University of California at Berkeley’s Distinguished Emeritus Awardee for the year 2020 and the University of Buffalo’s 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award. Awarded the 2008 Blues Songwriter of the Year from the West Coast Blues Hall of Fame, his collaborations with jazz musicians for the past forty years were also recognized by SFJazz Center with his appointment, from 2012-2016, as San Francisco’s first Jazz Poet Laureate and in Venice, Italy, where he became the first Alberto Dubito International awardee, honored as “a special artistic individual who has distinguished himself through the most innovative creativity in the musical and linguistic languages.” Reed plays his original compositions on piano for The Hands of Grace, an LP released in Fall 2022 by The Reading Group.

Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and raised in Buffalo, New York, Reed now lives in Oakland, California. His archives are maintained at the University of Delaware’s Special Collections, in Newark, Delaware.