Neo-HooDoo in the 21st Century and Other Topics: A Conversation with Ishmael Reed
“Neo-HooDoo believes that every man is an artist, and every artist a priest,” internationally-acclaimed writer Ishmael Reed wrote in his poem “Neo-HooDoo Manifesto” (Conjure, 1972). “Neo-HooDoo” is Reed’s neologism for the fluid African- and African diaspora-derived aesthetic and religious orientations, otherwise known as Voudon. With this phenomenon Reed parodies and satirizes Western systems of belief and value, with their claims about orthodoxy and politics of exclusivism. In Mumbo Jumbo (1972), his most critically acclaimed novel, Reed invoked and elaborated on James Weldon Johnson’s coinage “jes grew,” as an undefined quality of natural spontaneity, rhythm, and joy innate in the human spirit that manifests itself in the modern world mostly in black peoples. His literary modes and rhetorical playfulness skewered and upbraided dominant monisms and explored alternative meaning worlds. The Institute for Signifying Scriptures (ISS), a research institute of the Claremont Graduate University (CGU), welcomes as its Distinguished Speaker for 2012 the ever provocative writer Ishmael Reed, in conversation, to revisit and track registrations of Neo-HooDoo in the twenty-first century. This special event will take place on February 16, 2012, from 4:00 to 5:30pm.
The Institute for Signifying Scriptures excavates “scriptures” as sites of performance, power relations, and discursive formations. These excavations focus on the ways in which scriptural economies are made both to shape and secure as well as to undermine identities, positions, agency, and power in the world. As part of its ongoing research initiatives, the ISS will welcome Ishmael Reed as distinguished speaker. Most well-known for his satirical fiction and outspoken social commentary, Reed’s writings have been acknowledged for a prose style that “resembles the youthful Ali’s ring style” (New York Times Book Review), and “the brightest contributor to American satire since Mark Twain” (Nation).
Author of many critically acclaimed works including Flight to Canada (1976); and Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media (2010), Ishmael Reed is as provocative as he is polarizing. Reviews of Reed’s latest offering, Juice! A Novel (2011) are more than telling: “humorous and infectious” (Jim Coan); a “tendency to go too far” (Paul Devlin); “astute and cantankerous” (Donna Seaman); “abrasive, cynical and exhortative, lacking irony” and “angrier today than in the Vietnam Years” (Darryl Lorenzo Wellington).
Born 1938 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Reed grew up in working class neighborhoods in Buffalo, New York. He attended Buffalo public schools and the University of Buffalo. He moved to New York City, where he cofounded the East Village Other (1965), an underground newspaper that achieved a national reputation. Also that year, he organized the American Festival of Negro Art. He currently serves as editor to an online journal, Konch. As well as being a novelist, poet, and essayist, he is a songwriter, television producer, publisher, magazine editor, playwright, and founder of the Before Columbus Foundation and There City Cinema, both of which are located in northern California. He has taught at Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth, and for twenty years he has been a lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley. He lives in Oakland, California.
The ISS Distinguished Speaker Series has in the past featured the world-renowned Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, and such noted scholars as Aotearoan art historian Jo Diamond, biblical scholar Burton Mack, historian of religion Charles H. Long, and cultural and literary critic Gauri Viswanathan.
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