Two of Reed's books have been nominated for National Book Awards, and a book of poetry, Conjure, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His New and Collected Poems, 1964–2007, received the Commonwealth Club of California's Gold Medal. A poem written in Seattle in 1969, "beware : do not read this poem", has been cited by Gale Research Company as one of the approximately 20 poems that teachers and librarians have identified as the most frequently studied in literature courses. Reed’s novels, poetry and essays have been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese, Hebrew, Hungarian, Dutch, Korean, Chinese and Czech, among other languages.
Since 2012, Ishmael Reed has maintained the honor of being the first SF Jazz Poet Laureate from SF JAZZ, the leading non-profit jazz organization on the West Coast. An installation of his poem “When I Die I Will Go to Jazz” appears on the SFJAZZ Center’s North Gate in Linden Alley. LitQuake, the annual San Francisco Literary Festival, honored him with their 2011 Barbary Coast Award.
Among Reed's other honors are writing fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts. In 1995, he received the Langston Hughes Medal, awarded by City College of New York; in 1997, the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, establishing a three-year collaboration with the Oakland-based Second Start Literacy Project in 1998.
In 1998, he also received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship award. In 1999, he received a Fred Cody Award from the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association, and was inducted into Chicago State University’s National Literary Hall of Fame of Writers of African Descent. Other awards include a Rene Castillo OTTO Award for Political Theatre (2002); a Phillis Wheatley Award from the Harlem Book Fair (2003); and in 2004, a Robert Kirsch Award, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, besides the D.C. Area Writing Project’s 2nd Annual Exemplary Writer’s Award and the Martin Millennial Writers, Inc. Contribution to Southern Arts Award, in Memphis, Tennessee. A 1972 manifesto inspired a major visual art exhibit, NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith, curated by Franklin Sirmans for The Menil Collection in Houston, where it opened on June 27, 2008, and subsequently traveled to P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York City, and the Miami Art Museum through 2009. Buffalo, New York, celebrated February 21, 2014, as Ishmael Reed Day, when he received Just Buffalo Literary Center's 2014 Literary Legacy Award.