Bernice Williams, president of Every Other Thursday book club, sent me the review of my book,”Juice!”that was published in Crisis magazine.Hers is an organization of
professionals and non professionals who have continued a
tradition that dates back to the early part of the last century when there were scores of Paul Lawrence Dunbar clubs.
I had a chance to meet the members of the Every Other Thursday book club when they held a reception for my 94 year old mother,Thelma V.Reed, author of “Black Girl From Tannery Flats,” about her growing up in segregated Chattanooga, Tennessee and her migration to Buffalo in the early 1940s. The ability of Crisis to reach grassroots literary clubs is impressive and so though I usually don’t respond in print to negative reviews, I feel it necessary to respond to this one because African American readers are my base. As I told a famous writer, whose receiving an award made him become “biggity,” as my grandmother use to say, these readers will be with you till the last dog dies. He’d cancelled a trip to a black writers conference. I persuaded him to change his mind; he attended.
Darryl Lorenzo’s description of how I’ve used my energy over the last 30 years is as stingy as his review
of my book. For example, The Before Columbus Foundation, which, for 32 years has sponsored The American Book Awards, which, according to The National Endowment for the Arts ranks with the NBAs and the Pulitzers, doesn’t just give awards to “socially conscious” literature.He says that during the time mentioned, I’ve devoted the “better part of my energy to editorial projects.” It is true that I continue publishing authors from time to time from Ishmael Reed Publishing, Co., which was begun in 1974 as Reed Cannon and Johnson.Since the year 2000 I have published books by poets and short story writers. They include Swallowing Watermelons, a poetry collection by Karla Brundage (2006)City Beautiful, a poetry collection by Tennessee Reed (2006)After Altamira, a poetry collection by Neli Moody (2006) Maggie 3, a novel by Alison Mills Newman (2007) New and Selected Yuri, poetry and short stories by Yuri Kageyama (2011). Forthcoming is The Courtesans of Flounder Hill, a poetry collection by Tlingit poet Ishmael Hope(2012).25 New Nigerian Poets (edited by Toyin Adewale, 2000) and Short Stories by 16 Nigerian Women (edited by Toyin Adewale Gabrial, 2005) will be reprinted in Arabic by The National Center for Translation, Egypt in 2012. This will expand the audience for these Nigerian writers, some of whom I met in 1999 during a trip to Nigeria.I’ve also maintained a zine which was begun as a print publication in 1991, before going on line. The latest issue has new work by A.B.Spellman and Houston Baker Jr.’s review of Toure’s post race book.Your readers will locate the zine,Konch,at IshmaelReedpub.com.We don’t accept corporate money and our
staff includes four people, Tennessee Reed, my daughter, Carla Blank, my partner and Juveria our webmaster.We survive partially on donations therefore our contributors are free to say what they feel like saying.But the better part of energy hasn’t been devoted to publishing, information that could have found through a number of
search engines. Instead of his preparing a first rate piece about my activities, he leaves me in the position of being his 74 year old unpaid research assitant.
But my activities haven’t been confined to publishing books, zines or producing anthologies that are among the most diverse being published. “From Totems to Hip Hop,” an
anthology of poetry and “Pow Wow,” short stories. These anthologies are different from the usual ones,which might include one or two tokens. These books have received widespread class room adoption because of their excellence and diversity. I even found a short story written by Benjamin Franklin.
Just as Darryl Lorenzo Wellington omitted key features included in my novel,”Juice!” he leaves out major events
of my last thirty years.The following are some of the work I’ve done while holding down a thirty five year teaching job at the University of California at Berkeley.I retired in 2005.Now I’m back teaching at the California College of the Arts, located in San Francisco.
My book of poetry, “ New And Collected Poetry,1964-2006” received a gold medal from The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.N’gugi wa Thiong’o received the fiction gold medal. Last year, my poem, “Scrub Jays,” was published in Slate magazine. It was selected by Robert Pinsky, former U.S. Poet Laureate. On August 29,2006 my poem. INSPIRATION POINT, BERKELEY Was published in The New Yorker.
My poem,”Sweet Pea,” about pianist Billy
Strayhorn, was published this year in the French magazine.
Commissioned by the City of Richmond, my poem “Richmond Moving” will appear at the new Bay Area Transportation station as part of an installation constructed by artist Mildred Howard. Another poem has been accepted to be part of Rochester’s Poetry Walk. “ Going East,” appears at the intersection of Shattuck Ave. and Allston Way in Berkeley as part of an installation organized by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Robert Hass.
I also have spent my energy writing plays.I have produced plays which have challenged black actors whose talents have been confined to demeaning roles. The maid/hustler/boogeyman/prostitute roles that imprison them on Broadway and in Hollywood. Some of the recent Broadway plays, musicals and films about blacks prove what Wendell Wilkie, Walter White’s ally in the NAACP’s fight against demeaning roles assigned to black actors,was right.He accused the recent immigrant producers of making films about blacks that were no different from what the Nazi film industry produced about minorities. I wonder what Walter White would think of the Black Beast pathology porn movies produced by companies with no black men, black women, white women, latinos on its executive board- an executive board that uses black people to front for their racist and ugly projects. I wonder how he would feel about the Oscars board of governors that rewards these products- a board of governors that doesn’t include a single black person.Do you think that Walter White would reward these films?
In 2003,I received the Otto Award for Political Theater.My plays are available in the book, “Ishmael Reed,The Plays,” published by the Dalkey Archives. In 2011 my play,“The Preacher and the Rapper” was produced in Baden Baden. It was performed by a visiting troupe from Vienna.Mary Wilson of the Supremes was featured in the Off Broadway production of my play, a musical, called “Mother Hubbard.”
The score was composed by Ken McIntyre.She learned her lines over a weekend and refused pay. She is just one of the black celebrities who have assisted my work over the years. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tried to get Hollywood to produce
my most controversial novel,”Reckless Eyeballing,” which
caused an uproar among mainstream feminist leaders and their surrogates, who practice their anti misogyny critiques on the brothers, but are silent about that of their employers and cover up the treatment of women by male members of their ethnic groups, who are let off the hook, which is how white men are depicted in Kathryn Stockett’s Black Beast money maker, “The Help.” The great Gwendolyn Brooks awarded me a prize at the height of the controversy. The late Reginald Lewis of Beatrice International provided me with a grant based upon an Op ed I wrote in 1999. I was struggling at the time and the grant bailed me out of financial difficulty.
I am the Berkeley and New York producer of “The Domestic Crusaders,”by young Wajahat Ali. The play began as an assignment in my class room and became an international hit with praise from Toni Morrison and actor Emma Thompson.This play is cited as the beginning of an American Pakistani theater tradition in the United States. When the San Francisco Opera Co. turned down a work that they had commissioned me to write about the arrest of Jesus in the New Testament, which I interpreted from the perspective of Yoruba Religion, “Gethsemane Park,” I took the work, hired the great composer Carman Moore to write a score and hired singers, both Opera and Gospel to perform the work. It played to sold out audiences in Berkeley, San Francisco and New York.
Nothing about my song writing. Since 1983, I have collaborated with musicians to produce 3 Cds, “Conjure,” “ Conjure 2, Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon,” and most recently, ‘Bad Mouth,” which includes a song 2 songs one written in Japanese and one in Yoruba.My song Azabu Kissaten De passed the audience test when it was performed at the Blue Note in Tokyo.Having studied the Yoruba language, I read a poem I’d written in Yoruba before an audience of Nigerian scholars and intellectuals while visiting Lagos. The audience gave me a passing grade.
I continue to receive commissions
to write songs for distinguished artists. Cassandra Wilson recorded two songs, “The Prophet of Doom,” and “ Banished.” Taj Mahal recorded “Africa” in 2011. Last Sept.
Macy Gray and Tony Allen and Quest love premiered three of my songs during a Paris concert.
I made my debut as a Jazz pianist on “For All We Know,” which features David Murray and Roger Glen. It’s available at CD Baby. I began studying Jazz piano at the age of sixty when I enrolled in the Jazz school, located in Berkeley, California. I continue my lessons with the great Jazz pianist,Mary Watkins. Recently, during my performance at Yoshi’s jazz club, the great Roscoe Mitchell complimented my “ piano chops.” Your readers can catch my performance of Tadd Dameron’s “If You Can See Me Now,” on You Tube.In May, I will become the first poet laureate of the San Francisco Jazz Festival.
I learned Cartooning at San Francisco at the Cartoon Museum in San Francisco for the purpose of drawing illustrations for “Juice!” The cartoons are essential part of the text. For your reviewer not to mention the cartoons is like writing the New Testament and leaving out any reference to Peter.The cover was drawn by me.
I am producer of “ The Only Language She Knows,”a short film based upon a poem written by Genny Lim, who is one of the actors in the film. In 2003, Cecil Brown and I
produced “ Two-Fer” about the African American situation on American campuses.Since it didn’t show black men committing incest, black women as welfare cheats or black women who marry their husband’s executioner, it didn’t reach
“mainstream” audiences, but it played at the Black International Cinema 2003 film festival in Berlin (May 8 - 11), Düsseldorf (May 22 - 25), Vienna (May 30 - June 4) and Ljubljana (June 11 - 15).
“ Personal Problems,” starring Verta Mae Grosvenor
and Walter Cotton, based upon my treatment, directed by the great Bill Gunn(“Ganga and Hess”) with cinema photography by Robert Polidori, now photographer for The New Yorker, is still being shown thirty years after its production.Last
year it was shown at the Bamcinematek.
I continue to write both articles and pieces for scholarly publications. Forthcoming is “ Diminutive Playwright Takes on The Criminal Justice Dragon,” which is part of a special issue devoted to the work of the great Adrienne Kennedy to be published in Modern Drama, The University of Toronto. My nonfiction book, “Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media Return of the Nigger Breakers” was also published in Canada by Baraka published in Montreal.
Since it didn’t make nice and regard the U.S. as a post race paradise where class is now the main cause of discrimination and that racism is obsolete,no American publisher would touch it.
In I received the Robert Hirsch prize from The Los Angeles Times for “ Blues City a Walk in Oakland. In I was inducted in the Black Writers Hall of Fame.
My articles and Op Eds continue to appear in the pages of The New York Times.The Times published my first Op Ed in 1973. The Latest appeared in Nov.2011.It was cited one of five best Opeds written that day by Atlantic Wire.
I continue to be a contributor to Playboy, which is
publishing a forthcoming article about Harry S.Truman and Civil Rights. An article appearing in Playboy might upset Darryl who, in a review published in Amazon about
sodomy expressed his aversion to art that is “too traditionally heterosexual.”
He touched upon my fiction writing. I am the
author of 10 novels. One of them Japanese by Spring, written in three languages and celebrated during my tour of Japan and has been selected as a national project by Chinese universities. They’re bringing me there in Nov. where I will straighten out the message that they got from a five star $35,000 per lecture post-race entrepreneur who claims that racism is no longer an issue in the US. it’s class.
He doesn’t mention my first novel “The Free Lance Pallbearers.” It was published nearly fifty years ago and landed me a thirty five year teaching job at the University of California at Berkeley. He cites my age. I’m 74, which doesn’t mean that I’m not down. Tupac mentions me in his
song Still I Rise:“You can ask my man Ishmael Reed. Keep my nine heated all the time this is how we grind. Meet up at the cemetery then get smoked out, pass the weed nigga. That Hennessey'll keep me keyed nigga. Everywhere I go
niggaz holla at me, …”
My career has lasted because instead of castigating my elders with smart-ass snarky comments, I listened to them and watched how the critics some black and some white sought to destroy them because they turned
sacred cows into hamburgers an artistic tradition that extends thousands of years into West Africa before even the term “satire” gained an entry in a glossary of literary terms. Your reviewer should read Igbo Olodumare by D.O.Fagunwa. Among my mentors were John A.Williams and John O’Killens.Langston Hughes was responsible for my first novel being published. Ralph Ellison taught me the agonies of tokenism. Gloria Oden listened to me read from my first novel and offered me constructive criticism.Loften Mitchell complimented me on my poetry and tolerated my one lapse an insult for which I spent thirty years apologizing. When I was in my 20s,I got all up in James Baldwin’s face. He answered,regally, “ Ishmael, I’m older than you.” When I was 24 or so John A.Williams told me that if you didn’t submit to whichever orthodoxy on the right or left was fashionable at the time they would try to eliminate you.
Now the right is fielding proxies. My response to this suggestion was one of the reasons I left New York yet I’m still on the minds of Commentary, The Nation and The New Republic who’ve recently sent youthful surrogates to take me down.Elizabeth Podocha, of the Nation, the kind of corporate feminist who
performs her feminist bona fides on the brothers but is deferential to her patriarchal bosses, sponsored two hit jobs against me as a misogynist the charge against black male writers that Henry Louis Gates in his New York Times piece used to drive black male writers out of the market.In his Norton Anthology of African American literature, geared toward feminist sales,
he has me done by 1980,a line that has been picked up by critics who are too lazy to do their homework. This anthology omits a number of black male writers, including
the great writer, John Oliver Killens, whose tribute, offered by his biographer, Keith Gilyard, can be found at C-Span.org,search,” The American Book Awards.”
Darrly is a contributor to The Nation and Dissent,which was founded by Irving Howe who was the black writer king maker until my generation put him out of business in the late sixties.He also contributes to The Progressive whose editor has had a nervous break down over the election of a black president,because the president doesn’t check with him and other progressives before making a speech so that they can make suggestions,which is how it was done in the old days.
Howe made some patronizing comments about my novel, “Yellow Back Radio Broke Down.”Like all of my novels, it’s still in print and was the model for “Blazing Saddles.”The NY Intellectual Machine,which hasn’t created a single original idea, a bunch of Francophiles and Anglophiles who grew up in Brooklyn, still believe that they have the power to direct trends in black culture as they had in the 1950s. They hated John O’Killens because he debunked the feel good myth about the Greatest Generation by exposing the ordeal of black soldiers in a segregated army.John A.Williams, the greatest black novelist of the 20th century, is now ailing. If he were white, tributes would be pouring in. The NAACP should ask the National Institute of Arts and Letters to apologize for humiliating John of nominating John for a Prix D Rome only to kill the nomination one of the biggest scandals in the history of American writing.
So what’s going to happen to Reed name in literature? Well if anything happens to me I have two daughters Timothy and Tennessee both of whom are published authors.Tennesse’s memoirs are called “Spell Albuquerque”was published in...
Timothy’s novel is “Showing Out,” which was adapted for an
Off Broadway production. Both books are available at Amazon.com as well as my 95 year old mother’s book, “Black Girl From Tannery Flats.” Timothy wrote her first novel when she was 14. Tennessee published her first book when she was eleven.The Reed name in literature should be around for sometime.
And so far they haven’t been tempted to bite off more than they can chew.