Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed

In February of 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” Since then Tor.com has published my in-depth essays on nine of the 42 works mentioned. The original “Crash Course” listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but the essays skip around a bit. This tenth one talks about Ishmael Reed’s magnum opus, Mumbo Jumbo.


Mumbo Jumbo is the story of a life-giving epidemic known colloquially as “Jes Grew,” a spiritual cure-all for soullessness sweeping across the continental U.S. during the 1920s. If the book has a human hero it’s Papa LaBas, a self-anointed houngan—that is to say, a priest of ancient African mysteries. LaBas searches alongside Jes Grew for its long-lost sacred text in the hope of grounding and legitimizing it, and thus defeating the prudish rulers ...

Everfair by Nisi Shawl