28 Days of Literary Blackness With VSB | Day 8: The Autobiography of Malcolm X (As Told to Alex Haley)

Illustration for article titled 28 Days of Literary Blackness With VSB | Day 8: The Autobiography of Malcolm X (As Told to Alex Haley)
Image: The Autobiography of Malcolm X (As Told to Alex Haley (Penguin Random House (Original Printing: Grove Press, 1965)

Publisher Synopsis: In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1965, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement. His fascinating perspective on the lies and limitations of the American Dream, and the inherent racism in a society that denies its nonwhite citizens the opportunity to dream, gives extraordinary insight into the most urgent issues of our own time. The Autobiography of Malcolm X stands as the definitive statement of a movement and a man whose work was never completed but whose message is timeless. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand America.


Including The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a no-brainer. In fact, of all the books that will be featured this month, it was one of the two that inspired the series to begin with, along with Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic referencing the work as one of the most influential books in all of black America. About 95 percent of people I know have read it, and probably closer to 99 percent have seen Spike Lee’s greatest work, Malcolm X, the 1992 movie adaptation of the book starring Denzel Washington as Malcolm.

I know I don’t need to write a ton to compel anybody to read this book since, again, I’m assuming most have. I still have the copy that was purchased for me in 1992 after seeing the movie on my bookshelf. It is a work that means a lot to me as a person and as a black man in this country. Reading about Malcolm’s evolution through reflection, without giving himself a pass, and understanding the principles he stood for and how focused he came about the liberation of black people was inspirational and a call to action. There is a reason why Malcolm, over 60 years since his assassination in Harlem, still looms as large as Martin Luther King Jr. in black America.

Similarly, reading about the actual construction of the book—the back and forth between Alex Haley and Malcolm—is fascinating, and there are tons of books analyzing the autobiography itself and its influence and creation that, while obviously not as interesting as the book itself, provide tremendous background and even contentious accusations about Haley’s influence over the final product that Malcolm wouldn’t have approved.

Again, you know why this book is here and I know why this book is here and it’s probably one of the few that, no matter who reads it and why, we all come away with a similar respect and melancholy knowing that he and Alex Haley didn’t get a chance to finish their discussions. Who knows who Malcolm would have become had he not been murdered? But I know that I’m better off and more rooted in my own blackness for having read and processed his words. My kids will read this book because they have to.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (As Told to Alex Haley) (1965)

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.


Steve Vicious

My dad made me read it for my 7th grade book report project.  I was not stoked that he made me read it cuz I would have went with some dumb ass tween novel but I’m glad he made me do it.  Also had me do my 6th grade person report on Arthur Ashe, again same thing, glad he made me do it.