Malcolm X novel kicks off Great Michigan Read

Before becoming one of the most prominent figures in the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X spent several of his formative years in Michigan. “X: A Novel,” co-authored by Malcolm X’s third daughter Ilyasah Shabazz and author Kekla Magoon tells the fictionalized account of those years.

The story is described as a “tale of reinvention and redemption.”

“Malcolm was a young man with boundless potential but with the odds stacked against him. After losing his father under suspicious circumstances and his mother to a mental health hospital, Malcolm fell into a life of petty crime and eventually went to prison. Instead of letting prison be his downfall, Malcolm found a religion, a voice; and the podium that would eventually make him one of the most prominent figures in the burgeoning Civil Rights movement.”

The Michigan Humanities Council selected the book as this year’s Great Michigan Read. Every two years the organization selects a book set in Michigan or about Michigan with the hopes of spurring a statewide conversation. The Great Michigan Read is essentially a book club for the entire state.

“A lot of people in Michigan don’t realize Malcolm X spent most of his life, his formative years, in the Lansing area,” said James Nelson, project director for Great Michigan Reads. “There’s been quite an effort to acknowledge that recently. It’s something that has not really been explored. Michigan was always a big part of his life. His family was always here. Even when he was living in New York, he always had ties to Michigan.”

Malcolm X’s time in Lansing was filled with challenges that shaped his future. “His family had a very difficult time in Michigan,” Nelson said. “They faced a lot of adversity. Their homes were burnt down. They weren’t allowed to live in certain parts of Lansing. The book is about how they really struggled to stay together as a family and how, in many ways, his time here, good and bad, shaped him into the world leader he became.”

Ilyasah Shabazz, co-author of “X: A Novel and daughter of Malcolm X

While the book is a work of fiction, Nelson said it is based on “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” as well as stories he shared with his family about his time in Michigan.

“X: A Novel” is categorized as young adult fiction, but Nelson said it follows a recent trend of YA books taking on more adult themes. “It’s a young adult novel, but it follows the trend in young adult fiction to make a book that is just as approachable for an adult. It’s not a simple read. It’s got adult themes.”

Shelly Kasprzycki, executive director of the Michigan Humanities Council, said she hopes the book spurs discussion around key themes of “overcoming adversity, what makes a leader, how we choose the roles we play in life, and racism.” She noted the book contains many parallels from past to present.

The Great Michigan Read is a yearlong program and is accompanied by several events around the state, including visits by the book’s authors. “Programming will take place throughout 2017 – 2018,” Nelson said.

Kekla Magoon, co-author of “X: A Novel. Magoon will visit Grand Rapids this fall.

In West Michigan, Magoon has appearances scheduled from Oct. 10 – 12. Spring dates will likely be added as well.

A reading guide and other materials are available at the Michigan Humanities Council Great Michigan Read. There are also 6,000 books available through different partner organizations.

Previous Great Michigan Read selections: “Station Eleven,” “Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret,” “Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age,” “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner: A Memoir,” and “The Nick Adams Stories.”

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