The New Yorker called Ishmael Reed “a founding father of American multiculturalism” and “America’s most fearless satirist”. A colleague at the University of California, where he taught for 35 years, said he “is probably our most prolific faculty member.” This year, the multilingual poet, editor, novelist, playwright, cartoonist and lyricist becomes the winner of the Anisfield Wolf Book Awards for lifetime achievement.
Born in Chattanooga in 1938, Reed spent most of his early years in Buffalo, New York, working for the legendary black newspaper The Empire Star, first as a delivery boy and then as a jazz columnist. In the 1960s he began writing novels, first ‘The Freelance Pallbearers’ and then the novel he became best known for, ‘Mumbo Jumbo’.
A tireless artist, critic and iconoclast, Reed was awarded a MacArthur Genius Fellowship in 1998 and has made national headlines in recent years with the play “The Haunting of Lin Manuel Miranda”, which blamed the Hamilton writer for to have passed over in silence the hypocrisy of the anti-slavery positions of the founding father.
Reed is something of a recipient of the “if you know, you know” award. For many, this makes perfect sense. And if you don’t already know, you should.