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Manning Marable and A Life of Reinvention

Established in 1917, the Pulitzer Prize recognizes outstanding work in newspaper and online journalism, literature, and musical composition. To be considered for a 2012 Pulitzer, works had to be published during 2011 and submitted according to the entry guidelines. On April 16, 2012, the Pulitzer Prize winners were announced. This year, the Pulitzer announcement contained a few surprises: no award was given for fiction, nor for editorial writing. Among the winners, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, by the late Manning Marable. 

042312-1 Malcolm X was assassinated nearly 50 years ago, in 1965. During his life, he was a dynamic and controversial participant in the fight for civil rights. The Civil Rights era was a violent, complex time in American history. The goal of racial equality was not embraced by all Americans. There was disagreement among African Americans about what strategies to employ, the nonviolent methods of Martin Luther King, Jr., or the more violent and less unifying methods of Malcolm X. While history has embraced Martin Luther King, Jr. as a hero, Malcolm X remains a controversial figure.

Manning Marable spent much of his professional life studying and researching Malcolm X and his times. He sought to understand the nuances of Malcolm X’s personality, actions, and ideology amid the complexities of the Civil Rights era, and his place in that struggle. On Monday, the Pulitzer committee applauded Marable’s book, granting it the Pulitzer Prize.

Who was Malcolm X? Why was he controversial during his lifetime? What is his legacy? What makes Marable’s book worthy of a Pulitzer? This week, you will visit sites to learn more about the Pulitzer Prize, Manning Marable, and Malcolm X.

The 2012 Pulitzer Prize in History

042312-2 Joseph Pulitzer, the late nineteenth century publisher, outlined the Pulitzer Prize in his will. First bestowed in 1917, the Pulitzer Prize has become the highest honor bestowed upon American journalists, authors, and composers.  Read a biography of Joseph Pulitzer, the visionary publisher who founded the eponymous prize. Learn more about the history of the Pulitzer and how it has changed over the last ninety-five years. The Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal is awarded each year to the newspaper that wins the Public Service category. View the medal and learn more about the man who designed it.  This year, the Gold Medal went to the Philadelphia Inquirer for its coverage of the violence in schools.

In addition to recognizing the work of journalists and newspapers, the Pulitzer Board awards seven prizes for American letters, drama, and music. Among the categories in letters is a prize for “a distinguished and appropriately documented book on the history of the United States.” This year, that prize was awarded to Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Marable’s biography of Malcolm X was not originally considered in this category, but in the biography or autobiography category. Why do you think the Pulitzer Board moved it to the history field? Read the Board’s citation for Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention and a summary of the book from the publisher.

Manning Marable died in April, 2011, just days before his book was published. Read a biography of Manning Marable at Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies. NPR’s Michele Norris discusses Marable’s book on All Things Considered. Read a summary of the show, listen to the full report, and read an excerpt from Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. What chasms between the civil rights movement and the Nation of Islam (NOI) does the excerpt highlight? What tensions existed between Malcolm X and NOI leader Elijah Muhammad? What was Malcolm X’s goal for African-Americans?

Malcolm X

PBS highlighted Malcolm X in an American Experience episode titled, Make it Plain. Begin by viewing two timelines of Malcolm X’s life. The first covers 1925-1954; the second covers 1955-1965.  View a gallery of photos. Read a more detailed account of Malcolm X’s life. Explain which events you consider keys to understanding Malcolm X’s life. Why might Marable have included the word “reinvention” in his title? Watch interview excerpts in which people who knew Malcolm X share memories of him. Read an essay that examines what Malcolm X meant when he said, “…by any means necessary…” What questions do you have about Malcolm’s life?

042312-3 Malcolm Little became Malcolm X and joined the Nation of Islam in 1952. He quickly became an integral part of the organization and his prominence grew. Learn more about the Nation of Islam, its leader, Elijah Muhammad, and Malcolm X’s relationship with each. What questions do you have about the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X’s ideology at the time?

Many high school students are familiar with Malcolm X because of Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Published in 1965, the novel has become a classic and is commonly read during high school. Learn more about how this ‘autobiography’ came to be. Explain why you consider this book an autobiography or a biography.

As a member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X did not support the Civil Rights Movement. He approached racism with different goals and different strategies than did the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. However, Malcolm X’s views changed after his split with the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammad. Gradually, he began participating in civil rights campaigns. Read more about Malcolm X’s relationship with the Civil Rights Movement.

If you are interested in delving more deeply into the life and times of Malcolm X, you may be interested in completing the active learning exercises. Activities are available for history, economics, civics, and geography.

042312-4 Manning Marable conducted numerous interviews, and collected countless primary source documents while researching. He shares his research at the Malcolm X Project. More advanced students may be interested in perusing this site. Begin in The Life of Malcolm X. Use the menu along the left margin to access photos, articles, and audio segments for each period of Malcolm’s life. Hear why the Nation of Islam appealed to African American men. Learn more about the events you read at NPR in the excerpt; listen to Malcolm’s response to Ronald Stokes’ death. Explore the interviews. Select a person to view a list of all their interview topics. Hear Malcolm X’s views in his own words in Malcolm X Speaks. Listen to Integrationism, Separation, Defending Yourself, and Failure of Nonviolence. How do his views differ from what you know of Martin Luther King, Jr.? How do these clips help explain why Malcolm X was both influential and controversial? The FBI maintained a file on Malcolm X. View selections from it, including those related to Ronald Stokes’ murder.

 Malcolm X was a complex character. His views were not stagnant; they changed to reflect Malcolm X’s experiences, and the times. He was not afraid to confront those in power and to demand equality for African-Americans. However, his changing views and confrontational style made Malcolm X controversial, and some thought, dangerous. Manning Marable’s biography reveals the nuances of the man, his place in history, and his importance to our lives.