Nonfiction November #1

The Dead Are Arising by Les & Tamara Payne

The Dead Are Arising is the collaborative effort of Les Payne and his daughter Tamara. For the heralded columnist this is his opus, a thirty year labor of love. For Tamara Payne it is a testament to her father as much as it is to Malcolm.

This past Friday I had the pleasure of seeing Tamara Payne interviewed on Politics and Prose. In discussing the direction of The Dead Are Arising she explained how our love for the man clouds our vision of him. That we tend to see him in a vacuum. He is this myth of a man and we forget that he is a man who had a family. These extensions of himself that are still grounded here. His legacy lives on in them and although we as a public want to claim him, he really isn’t ours to own. In expressing these sentiments she could have been talking about Malcolm or her father Les Payne. In completing this book, one of Payne’s chief aims was to be true to her father’s voice. As his daughter, this book was her gift to the rest of his family; her hope that they would hear his voice as they read its pages.

The Dead Are Arising is the culmination of hundreds of interviews with the people who knew Malcolm best. While reading the book I found it hard not to compare it to The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This was in part because I read it directly before delving into this work, but also because the authors refer to it throughout. As a scientist, I considered this a natural part of being a researcher where your role is to verify the validity of the data presented to you. In some cases The Autobiography is supported. In others it is refuted.

Within its pages we get a new perspective of his early life and family dynamics. The previous claim that Malcolm’s father was murdered by the Klan is challenged. More attention is paid to the structure and the founding of the Nation of Islam. Most revelatory for me was the passages that detailed Malcolm’s meeting with the Ku Klux Klan in 1961 and the coverage of his assassination.

Payne is very protective of her subject. In fact fans of Marable’s book have criticized The Dead Are Arising for being too generous towards Malcolm’s legacy. His criminal activities are not as extensive or terrible as they appear in his autobiography. Miss Payne accounts for this difference by claiming that the purpose of exaggerating Malcolm’s street life in The Autobiography sets the stage for his origin myth. The more despicable a picture you paint of your past, the greater the redemptive value of your religious conversion.

The Dead Are Arising was an engrossing read. A vivid portrait, it gives insight into Malcolm Little, the child and El Hajj Malik Shabazz, the man. I believe Tamara Payne has done what she set out to do – amplify the voices of both her father and Malcolm.

3 thoughts on “Nonfiction November #1

  1. Pingback: WWW Wednesdays 11/3 – Carry a Big Book

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