Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact
Previous story: Snapshots From Belarus
Next story: Lewiston Arts Cafe Brings Together Local Artists

Just Buffalo Literary Center to Honor Ishmael Reed

Ishmael Reed will be feted on February 21. (photo by Lia-Chang)

On Friday, February 21, Just Buffalo Literary Center will honor Ishmael Reed, one of the most important living writers of the 20th century, with the 2014 Literary Legacy Award.

A poet, essayist, playwright, novelist, editor, publisher, songwriter, and social activist, Reed has been nominated twice for a National Book Award as well as a Pulitzer Prize for his writings. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Reed has a strong connection to Buffalo, having moved here when he was just four years old. He remained here, attending Buffalo Technical High School, East High School, and the University at Buffalo. During these influential years, Reed began writing seriously as well as performing in an acting ensemble which included fellow 20th-century literary master Lucille Clifton.

And yet, Reed explains, “I didn’t discover Buffalo until long after I left. It began when I researched a novel called Flight to Canada, for which I created the term ‘Neo Slave Narrative.’ I found that Buffalo was a hotbed of anti-slavery activity during the 19th century. Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and W .E .B DuBois were among those who passed through a town that was the last stop before Canada. The first black male novelist, William Wells Brown—and poet—lived in Buffalo. I’m still learning.”

This commitment to unearthing Buffalo’s literary past is near and dear to Just Buffalo’s mission and just one of the reasons that the organization created the award back in 2004 to honor individuals who have made a significant contribution to the literary legacy of Buffalo. Past Literary Legacy Award recipients include poets Robert Creeley, Alexis De Veaux, Jimmie Gilliam, and Sherry Robbins; playwright Emanuel Fried; journalist R. D. Pohl; Talking Leaves Books founder Jonathan Welch; and Just Buffalo Literary Center founder Debora Ott.

The author of more than 20 books, Reed’s early groundbreaking books, Mumbo Jumbo (1972) and Flight to Canada (1976) were among the first critically acclaimed works to define the African-American canon. But it remains nearly impossible—a good thing, indeed—to pigeonhole Reed into any single category. His writings have been compared to literary giants as varied as Ralph Ellison, Charles Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, and Allen Ginbserg.

A recipient of MacArthur, Guggenheim, and NEA fellowships, Reed taught for 35 years at UC Berkeley and also created the Before Columbus Foundation, which promotes multicultural writing in America and presents the American Book Awards.

Now, Just Buffalo Literary Center is bringing him back to Buffalo on the eve of his 76th birthday to honor his lifetime achievement in letters at a special reception at 6:30pm at the Hotel @ The Lafayette in downtown Buffalo. The evening’s festivities will include jazz by the Larry Salter Soul orchestra, a 21-piece ensemble which rehearses weekly at the Historic Colored Musicians Club, as well as a performance of representative excerpts from Reed’s extensive body of works by Best Actress Artie nominee,Annette Daniels Taylor.

The RSVP deadline, February 11, is fast approaching. Ticket prices run $75 for an individual or two for $125. Guests will receive a limited-edition gift featuring an excerpt from Ishmael Reed’s poetry with artwork by William Cooper. Tickets can be reserved by calling 716-832-5400 or online at

blog comments powered by Disqus