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Thursday, August 31, 2023

Ishmael Reed the Illuminatus

Ishmael Reed in 2019 (Creative Commons photo, source)

Jesse Walker sends me a bit from an interview with Ishmael Reed, author of Mumbo Jumbo and other books: 

Q. Have  you ever received an honorary degree or grant or award for your writing?

A. I haven't received an honorary degree or grant, but I was recently made an honorary pope by the Bavarian Illuminati (for the writing of Mumbo Jumbo) which, according to the sealed papers I received in the mail, was founded in 1090 A.D. by Hassan i Sabbah. They read the book and don't think it was "muddled," as one of the "Sister" critics thought. (I get my strongest criticism from some of the "Sisters." I guess this is because they want me to improve and do better, god bless them.)

I asked Jesse for a citation, and he replied,

It originally appeared in the June 1974 issue of BLACK WORLD, and it was reprinted in the books SHROVETIDE IN OLD NEW ORLEANS and CONVERSATIONS WITH ISHMAEL REED. I should probably add that he is interviewing himself.

Your query prompted me to look up whether that issue of BLACK WORLD is online, and sure enough it is:

I have posted on the connection between Illuminatus and Mumbo Jumbo, see this post, and also see this post. 

Jesse also asked me to post the query he made on X, looking for a Reed essay, here is is:

1. In my memory, I first learned of Zora Neale Hurston in an essay about her by Ishmael Reed, then dug up TELL MY HORSE at the library. But the only Reed essay about Hurston that I can find is...his intro to a reprint of TELL MY HORSE, which couldn't have led me *to* the book.

2. That intro was reprinted in Reed's book AIRING DIRTY LAUNDRY, which I've read, but it didn't come out until 1994, years after I encountered TELL MY HORSE. She is mentioned in some of his essays—and in MUMBO JUMBO—so it's possible I went digging after reading one of those.

3. But it's possible that he really did write an extended essay about her that was not the TELL MY HORSE intro & that I'm just doing a bad job of finding it. So I put the question to Twitter: Do any of you know of this article that I think I'm remembering but might be imagining?


Rarebit Fiend said...

I am familiar with the introduction essay Jesse Walker mentioned, but nothing else. Everyone should read Tell My Horse which is an amazing book! Her Mules and Men is also a fascinating piece of writing.

Eric Wagner said...

Reed frequently mentions Hurston. I don't recall any other full essays on her, though.

Jesse said...

Thanks, y'all. I'm starting to think I must have followed one of those briefer references in his other essays or in MUMBO JUMBO. (The latter does recommend TELL MY HORSE, albeit under its British name, and it is the first piece of writing by Ishmael Reed that I ever read.)

And yes, Hurston's writing is great. I don't want to say too much about what I'm working on right now, but among other things it will involve a trip to Eatonville next week.