Authors: Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
Publishers: Candlewick Press 2015
Paperback Edition: 348 pages plus Author’s Note, Timelines, Suggestions for further reading
Source: Personal copy
Each year the Michigan Humanities Council presents The Great Michigan Read. It is a book club for the entire state with focus on a single book. This year the book is X a fictionalized account of the formative years of Malcolm X, speaker, leader, and converted Muslim (1925-1965). Major author Ilyasah Shabazz is the third daughter of Malcolm X and his wife Betty Shabazz. It is described as a novel of reinvention and redemption and one which highlights the Michigan roots of this influential leader.
The Council provides books, and a reading guide to facilitate study of this book and the issues addressed. Additional information pertinent to the understanding of Malcolm’s story is part of the packet the Council distributes. This story reminds us that even when we as individuals feel powerless, each of us holds surprising power. This book is intended for all readers, young adults (I would say middle to high school students) to senior citizens. The Council strives to make literature accessible and appealing for all.
The book has many powerful themes. Unfortunately I missed the book club meeting and discussion of the book. I will point out one important theme, well articulated in the context of Malcolm’s young life and experiences. The book is strong in helping readers understand how people of color feel, especially when they come from a background of poverty.
The authors clarify rules black people must follow in our society. Some of those stated for Malcolm in the 30’s and 40’s: a black person could not say how one felt, or thought, keep your head down low when a white person passed you, use low dirty water fountains located right next to the high clean one for whites, ride in the back of the bus, not to sit down unless no white people were on board. There are things you can’t say and places you cannot go. Some of these are less frequent today and some are gone. But think, are black people today allowed to express feelings or speak about injustice as they might truly feel. What happens if they do?
As one reads this rather expected tale of Malcolm trying to find a place for himself in the 30’s and 40’s in Lansing, MI, Boston and Harlem, his experiences bring to mind experiences young black males live in contemporary society. The differences are not so great as we might at first believe. Malcolm lost his parents when he was young and though his siblings and extended family tried to assist him, the story brings home what a great loss this is for any person and how it may affect their developing beliefs.
The book speaks to a wide audience. Yes, it has much to say to a 14 year old young man from a black community, but it also teaches a white woman of 70+ years cultural celebrations and pitfalls that swirl in our midst. The book contains author’s notes, timelines and historical facts and perspectives to further enlighten readers.
The Humanities Council provides a Reader’s Guide. Of special interest to this reader was the Q and A with second author Kekla Magoon concerning in part how to approach the writing of a book with two authors. Suggested discussion questions are also included.
Malcolm Little lost his family when he was only six. He spent is early years yearning for his father, his teen years running from family and the voice of his father. It is a universal story. Reading this book, one learns about his young life and what finally led him to find his voice and become a powerful leader in the Civil Rights movement.
Thanks you Michigan Humanities Council!