Reed, Ishmael

Tagged: Author

(1938-    ) US author, poet and playwright who emerged in the 1960s as a central representative of the New Black Aesthetic movement, and a figure controversial to the Black critical establishment from the publication of his first novel, The Free-Lance Pallbearers (1967), a powerful Satire. In this and in books like Yellow-Back Radio Broke-Down (1969) and Mumbo Jumbo (1972), whose main characters use black humour to express their outrage in the face of oppression, he mixed elements of surreal satire and Magic-Realist fantasy into complex plots, calling this distinctive literary method Neo-Hoodooism; n Mumbo Jumbo, the search for something like a history of America subverted (as it were) by Black autonomy leads, at moments, into Alternate History riffs. Further such tales include The Last Days of Louisiana Red (1974) and Flight to Canada (1975). In several of these books grotesquely overelaborated thriller plots carry the burden of the flamboyant text, and similar plots – featuring a bemused detective named Nance Saturday – shape his genuine sf novels, The Terrible Twos (1982) and The Terrible Threes (1989). In the first of these sad and rather savage Near-Future satires the US President is a male model with an IQ of 55; the second is a Dystopian vision of the late 1990s, seen as a continuation of the Reagan years, much darkened. Critics have seen Reed's use of humour as an attempt to distract attention from important social issues and his suspicion of Black Feminists as less than persuasive; by contrast, Thomas Pynchon and other authors of contemporary interest have cited Reed as an exemplary writer. [CAJ/JC]

Ishmael Scott Reed

born Chattanooga, Tennessee: 22 February 1938


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