Take and Read: The Autobiography of Malcolm X | National Catholic ReporterMalcolm X was to some a great leader, an activist for human rights, and a respected Muslim minister; to others he was an advocate of violence and racism against white people. By the end of his life he had left the Nation of Islam and attacked all racism. Just before his death, Malcolm X completed — with Alex Haley — The Autobiography of Malcolm X — a remarkable book, regarded now as one of the most important and influential nonfiction books of the last years. To encourage wide learning and debate about Malcolm X, Festival of Ideas is creating a mass reading group with the distribution of free copies of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. We want people in the city to read the book, discuss it, and provide reactions and responses to it. Register to find out how to collect your FREE copy. To see more events that are part of this project, click here.
"Learning to Read.." an excerpt from Malcolm X
Books by Malcolm X
After the leader was killed, Haley wrote the book's epilogue. Rather than rewriting earlier chapters as a polemic against the Nation which Malcolm X had rejected, Haley persuaded him to favor a style of "suspense and drama". When the Autobiography was published, The New York Times reviewer described it as a "brilliant, painful, important book". In , historian John William Ward wrote that it would become a classic American autobiography. Beginning with his mother's pregnancy, the book describes Malcolm's childhood in Michigan , the death of his father under questionable circumstances, and his mother's deteriorating mental health that resulted in her commitment to a psychiatric hospital. This led to his arrest and subsequent eight- to ten-year prison sentence, of which he served six-and-a-half years — It documents his disillusionment with and departure from the Nation of Islam in March , his pilgrimage to Mecca , which catalyzed his conversion to orthodox Sunni Islam , and his travels in Africa.
My Uncle, a total jock that ran yards for touchdowns instead of studying to get through high school, told me once the only book he ever read was The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I used to think that was crazy and maybe I still think it a bit. But only by reading his words can one begin to understand the process of his revolutionary mindset, one that went through many changes in his short life. As a Marxist, I understand that the material conditions in which we live are what shape our understanding of the world. But that was not always the case. His first instincts were towards black nationalism.
From Frederick Douglass to Barack Obama , African Americans wanting to enter a national literary conversation dominated by white writers have first had to make the more basic assertion that their voices deserve to be heard, and for much of American history they have done that by telling their life stories. The Autobiography of Malcolm X presents quite the opposite problem. The cover of the book states clearly that someone else — namely, Alex Haley — wrote the text, but since it was published in , most readers have naturally assumed they were hearing the unfiltered voice of Malcolm X. This is potent stuff for those who care about Malcolm X and his legacy. This narrative arc soothes the conscience of white readers laboring under the weight of historical guilt, putting them in the novel position of rooting for a black martyr against the forces of intolerance, and more subtly, offering them a route to racial absolution. Whoever wrote it, The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a hell of a book.
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Born Malcolm Little on May 19, , Malcolm X was one of the most articulate and powerful leaders of black America during the s. A street hustler convicted of robbery in , he spent seven years in prison, where he educated himself and became a disciple of Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam. In the days of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X emerged as the leading spokesman for black separatism, a philosophy that urged black Americans to cut political, social, and economic ties with the white community.
Since then, it has travelled with me throughout my life and feels even more resonant now than it did when I first read it. But back then I needed it. I needed it bad. I was on the verge of leaving the care system for a world of who knows what. I felt like a laboratory experiment about to be released. I had been told lies about myself. People told me they were colour blind when in fact they saw my colour.
But I am so glad that I read it. I knew little to nothing about Malcolm X before reading this book and what I thought I knew was completely wrong. The reason this book was so disturbing was the level of pure evil described therein. His mother was sent to an insane asylum by the state, thereby removing her from her children. He destroyed a girl he liked by ditching her at a dance for a white girl. One of his best friends lures women into prostitution by robbing them and offering them a chance to make the money back. Once he joined the Nation of Islam NOI , he ascribed to a doctrine that white people were specifically bred on the Island of Patmos to be devils.