The Last Days of Louisiana Red


The Last Days of Louisiana Red
blends paradox, hyperbole, understatement and signifyin' so expertly you can almost hear a droll black voice telling the tales as you read it.”

—Barbara Smith,
New Republic

“Funky, hip, and cool.… The language is re-cycled garbage that sometimes, amazingly, becomes poetry and almost always is authentic, alive.”


“A tangle of allusions, an allegorical puzzle that keeps the mind on its toes.… Mr. Reed exercises in jokes and wisecracks, scholarship and satire. All of which makes for a frenetic form of vaudeville show.”

—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt,
New York Times

“This is a very alive novel of living folklore; sometimes Reed's prose feels like walking through a field teeming with wild game which jumps out from under your feet.”

—Martin Washburn,
Village Voice

“This novel disguised as a verbal comic strip is brilliant and funny.”

Library Journal

“Reed at his bravura best in the use of language and parody.”

Publishers Weekly



Writin' Is Fightin'

God Made Alaska for the Indians

Shrovetide in Old New OrleOns

Airing Dirty Laundry


Japanese by Spring

The Terrible Threes

Reckless Eyeballing

The Terrible Twos

Flight to Canada

The Last Days of Louisiana Red

Mumbo Jumbo

Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down

The Free-Lance Pallbearers


New and Collected Poems

A Secretary to the Spirits



Catechism of D Neoamerican Hoodoo Church


Mother Hubbard,
Hell Hath No Fury

The Ace Boons

Savage Wilds

Hubba City


The Before Columbus Foundation Fiction Anthology

The Before Columbus Foundation Poetry Anthology


19 Necromancers From Now

Multi-America: Essays on Cultural War and Cultural Peace

Ishmael Reed

Copyright © 1974 by Ishmael Reed
First Dalkey Archive edition, 2000
All rights reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Reed, Ishmael, 1938-

The last days of Louisiana Red / Ishmael Reed. — 1st Dalkey Archive ed.

p. cm.

ISBN: 978-1-4299-6531-6

1. Private investigators—California—Berkeley—Fiction. 2. Voodooism—California—Berkeley—Fiction. 3. Berkeley (Calif.)—Fiction. 4. Cookery (Okra)—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3568.E365   L3   2000



This publication is partially supported by grants from the Lannan Foundation and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

Dalkey Archive Press



Gumbo, of all other products of the New Orleans cuisine, represents a most distinctive type of evolution of good cookery under the hands of the famous Creole cuisinières of old New Orleans. Indeed, the word “evolution” fails to apply when speaking of Gumbo, for it is an original conception, a something sui generis in cooking, peculiar to this ancient Creole city alone, and to the manner born. With equal ability the olden Creole cooks saw the possibilities of exquisite and delicious combinations of making Gumbo, and hence we have
many varieties!
till the occult science of making a good “Gumbo à la Creole” seems too fine an inheritance of gastronomic lore to remain forever hidden away in the cuisines of this old Southern metropolis. The following recipes, gathered with care from the best Creole housekeepers of New Orleans, have been handed down from generation to generation.

The Picayune Creole Cook Book


California, named for the negro

Queen Califia

California, The Out-Yonder State

California, refuge for survivors

of the ancient continent of


California, Who, one day, prophets

say will also sink

The story begins in Berkeley, California. The city of unfinished attics and stairs leading to strange towers.

Berkeley, California, was incorporated on April Fools' Day, 1878; it is an Aries town: Fire, Cardinal, Head (brain children who gamble with life, according to Carl Payne Tobey, author of
Astrology of Inner Space)

Aries: activity, exaltation. PROPAGANDA. Self Assertiveness. Now, that would characterize Ed Yellings.

Ed Yellings was an american negro itinerant who popped into Berkeley during the age of Nat King Cole. People looked around one day and there he was.

When Osiris entered Egypt, cannibalism was in vogue. He stopped men from eating men. Thousands of years later when Ed Yellings entered Berkeley, there was a plague too, but not as savage. After centuries of learning how to be subtle, the scheming beast that is man had acquired the ability to cover up.

When Ed Yellings entered Berkeley “men were not eating men”; men were inflicting psychological stress on one another. Driving one another to high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, which only made it worse, since the stabbings, rapings, muggings went on as usual. Ed Yellings, being a Worker, decided he would find some way to end Louisiana Red, which is what all of this activity was called. The only future Louisiana Red has is a stroke.

Ed gained a reputation for being not only a Worker but a worker too. No one could say that this loner didn't pay his way. He worked at odd jobs: selling tacos on University Avenue across the street from the former Santa Fe passenger station, now a steak joint; during the Christmas season peddling Christmas trees in a lot on San Pablo across the street from the Lucky Dog pet shop and the V.I.P. massage parlor.

He even worked in an outdoor beer joint on Euclid Street a few doors above the U.C. Corner.

Since he worked with workers, he gained a knowledge of the workers' lot. He knew that their lives were bitter. He experienced their surliness, their downtroddenness, their spitefulness and the hatred they had for one another and for their wives and their kids. He saw them repeatedly go against their own best interests as they were swayed and bedazzled by modern subliminal techniques, manipulated by politicians and corporate tycoons, who posed as their friends while sapping their energy. Whose political campaigns amounted to: “Get the Nigger.”

Louisiana Red was the way they related to one another, oppressed one another, maimed and murdered one another, carving one another while above their heads, fifty thousand feet, billionaires flew in custom-made jet planes equipped with saunas tennis courts swimming pools discotheques and meeting rooms decorated like a Merv Griffin Show set. Like J. P. Morgan, who once made Millard Fillmore cool his heels, these men stood up powerful senators of the United States—made them wait and fidget in the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel.

The miserable workers were anti-negro, anti-chicano, anti-puerto rican, anti-asian, anti-native american, had forgotten their guild oaths, disrespected craftsmanship; produced badly made cars and appliances and were stimulated by gangster-controlled entertainment; turned out worms in the tuna fish, spiders in the soup, inflamatory toys, tumorous chickens, d.d.t. in fish and the brand new condominium built on quicksand.

What would you expect from innocent victims caught by the american tendency towards standardization, who monotonously were assigned to churning out fragments instead of the whole thing?

Sherwood Anderson, the prophet, had warned of the consequences of standardization and left Herbert Hoover's presence when he found that Hoover was a leveler: I don't care if my car looks like the other fellow's, as long as it gets me to where I'm going was how Hoover saw it.

Ed wanted to free the worker from Louisiana Red because Louisiana Red was killing the worker. It would be a holy occupation to give Louisiana Red the Business, Ed thought. Ed thought about these things a lot. Ed was a thinker and a Worker. After working at his odd jobs Ed would go to his cottage on Milvia Street and read up on botany theology music poetry corporation law american Business practices, and it was this reading as well as his own good instincts and experiences that led him to believe that he would help the worker by entering Business and recruiting fellow Workers. Not the primitive and gross businessmen of old who introduced the late movies on television, but the kind of Business people who made the circuit of 1890s America, contributing mystery and keeping their Business to themselves.

His reading directed him to an old company that was supposed to be the best in the Business. Their Board of Directors was very stringent; cruel, some would say. Ed passed their test and received his certificate from Blue Coal, the Chairman of the Board. Shortly afterwards he received an assignment from his new employers; they sent him to New Orleans on a mission to collect the effects of a certain astrologer, diviner and herbalist who had been done in by some pretty rough industrial spies working for the competition. Ed's assignment was to collect this man's bookkeeping and records and to continue this Businessman's Work. (His Board of Directors had distributed franchises all over the world; the New Orleans branch was one.)

Some say that it was after Ed returned from New Orleans that he abandoned the rarefied world of ideals and put his roots to Business; gave up being a short-order cook and handyman and became instead the head of a thriving “Gumbo” Business: Solid Gumbo Works.

He chose a very small staff of Workers—very small, because Ed had learned through bitter experience that if you go over a secret number you will run into an informer who leaks industrial secrets to industrial spies, or even worse a maniac who not only wishes to self-destruct but to bring down the whole corporation as well.

Ed rented an office on the Berkeley Marina and started making his Gumbo. He was deliberately cryptic about the kind of Gumbo he was into; it certainly wasn't “Soul Food.”

Ed's Gumbo became the talk of the town, though people could only guess what Ed was up to in this city named for Bishop George Berkeley, the philosopher, who coined the phrase “Westward The Course Of Empire Takes Its Way.”

When asked his purpose, Ed would merely answer that he had gone into the Gumbo Business.

Though no one could testify to having seen it or tasted it, Ed's Gumbo began making waves; though ordinary salesmen hated it, distributors wouldn't touch it and phony cuisinières gave it a bad name, no one could deny that, however unexplained, there was some kind of operation going on at Ed's Gumbo premises: cars could be seen arriving and departing; others got theirs through subscription.

Whatever Ed was selling, the people were buying, and rather than put his product on the shelves next to the synthetic wares of a poisonous noxious time, Ed catered to a sophisticated elite. In a town like Berkeley, as in any other American small town, superstitiousness and primitive beliefs were rife and so was their hideous Sister, gossip.

Ghosts too. The computer isn't to blame; the problems of The Bay Area Rapid Transit are due to the burial grounds of the Costanoan indians it disturbs as it speeds through the East Bay.

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