NEWS RELEASE, 06/01/98

Writer Ishmael Reed, lecturer in UC Berkeley's English Department, wins MacArthur "genius" fellowship

By Public Affairs

BERKELEY -- Ishmael Reed, a University of California, Berkeley, lecturer whose work has charted a new path in African American writing, is one of 29 recipients nationwide of a prestigious MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellowship.

Reed, 60, is a poet, novelist, essayist and playwright who has taught in the English Department at UC Berkeley since 1968. He is recognized for leading the movement in African American writing away from social realism toward a more complex, non-linear style.

On June 2, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the new fellows. All will receive awards that range from $220,000 to $375,000, depending on the age of the recipient. Reed will receive $355,000 over the next five years.

Reed could not be reached for comment, but Daniel Socolow, director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, said Reed was elated when Socolow called him last Wednesday at his home in Oakland.

"These phone calls are always wonderful," said Socolow, who made all 29 calls in one day. "(Reed) was wonderfully pleased and excited. I didn't take quotes, but he clearly...was pleased and moved.

"I asked all the recipients whether they expected to win. Eight-five percent didn't know, and he was one of them."

Socolow added that, from time to time, Reed has helped the foundation evaluate other candidates for the fellowships.

The author of 9 novels, several books of essays and volumes of poems, Reed is considered one of the driving forces behind the publication of writers with multi-ethnic perspectives.

His novels include "The Last Days of Louisiana Red," "The Terrible Twos" and "Mumbo Jumbo."

Reed twice has been nominated for the National Book Award and has won the Lewis H. Michaux Literary Prize. He has also written songs, produced TV shows and edited magazines.

"Ishmael Reed is an extraordinarily talented and accomplished writer," said UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol T. Christ. "We have been very fortunate to have him as a faculty member in our department of English. He deserves the recognition the MacArthur Foundation is giving him."

Jeffrey D. Knapp, chair of UC Berkeley's English Department, echoed the sentiments.

"Ishmael is an enormously charismatic and effective teacher," he said. "He is probably our most productive faculty member. This award is richly deserved."

The MacArthur Foundation, with assets of about $4 billion, is a private, independent, grant-making institution that helps groups and individuals foster lasting improvement in the human condition. The foundation imposes no requirements or restrictions on how the fellows use their award money and does not require or expect them to produce specific products or reports.

Individuals cannot apply for MacArthur fellowships. They have become known as "genius" awards because the foundation seeks out people - rather than projects or organizations - who are experts in their field and exhibit exceptional creativity.

Among this year's winners are individuals in fields ranging from cosmology to cattle ranching, from the World Wide Web to journalism.

Reed was born in Chattanooga, Tenn., attended the University of New York at Buffalo and received an honorary Doctorate of Letters in 1995.

With this award, the number of MacArthur fellows from UC Berkeley totals 23. The foundation reported that, as of this June 2 announcement, they have named 531 fellows since the program began in 1981. The winners have ranged in age from 18 to 82.

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