ISHMAEL REED was born on February 22, 1938, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the son of Henry Lenoir, a fundraiser for the YMCA, and Thelma Coleman; he took his name from his stepfather, Bennie Stephen Reed, an autoworker. The family moved to Buffalo in 1942, where Reed spent a few years at Buffalo Technical High School before graduating from East High School in 1956. He then attended the State University of New York at Buffalo, but had to withdraw in 1960 for lack of funds. At this time he married Priscilla Rose, with whom he would have two children before separating in 1963; they divorced in 1970.
Reed began working at the Talbert Mall Project, a black housing project in Buffalo. This experience led to a period of social activism, which included work on a newspaper, the Empire Star Weekly, and a controversial radio station, WVFO. In 1962 Reed moved to New York City, where he edited an underground magazine, the Advance, in Newark, New Jersey; he also participated in the Umbra Workshop, a black writers' group, and, in 1965, organized the American Festival of Negro Art.
Reed had begun writing satirical sketches in college. In 1967, the year he moved to Berkeley, California, his first novel, The Free-Lance Pallbearers, was published. This wide-ranging satire set the tone for Reed's other novels, whose only unifying themes are outrageousness and a refusal to toe a party line: Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down ( 1969), a vicious attack on Christianity; Mumbo Jumbo ( 1972) and The Last Days of Louisiana Red ( 1974), parodies of the detective novel in which a black detective uses HooDoo to probe African-American cultural history; Flight to Canada ( 1976), an ironic imitation of the slave narrative; The Terrible Twos ( 1982) and its sequel, The Terrible Threes ( 1989), satires on conservative politics and religion; Reckless Eyeballing ( 1986), a send-up of black feminism; and Japanese by Spring ( 1993), an attack on academic life.
Reed has also distinguished himself as a poet. His first volume of poetry was catechism of d neoamerican hoodoo church ( 1970), and it was followed by