The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X
WINNER ― 2020 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR NONFICTION • TIME Magazine ― 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2020 • A New York Times Notable Book of 2020 and Editors' Choice Selection • Best Books of 2020: NPR, Washington Post, Library Journal, Chicago Public Library • Excerpted in The New Yorker • Longlisted ― Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction • Best Books of Fall 2020 ― O, the Oprah Magazine, The Week, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Les Payne, the renowned Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist, embarked in 1990 on a nearly thirty-year-long quest to interview anyone he could find who had actually known Malcolm X―all living siblings of the Malcolm Little family, classmates, street friends, cellmates, Nation of Islam figures, FBI moles and cops, and political leaders around the world. His goal was ambitious: to transform what would become over a hundred hours of interviews into an unprecedented portrait of Malcolm X, one that would separate fact from fiction.
The result is this historic biography that conjures a never-before-seen world of its protagonist, a work whose title is inspired by a phrase Malcolm X used when he saw his Hartford followers stir with purpose, as if the dead were truly arising, to overcome the obstacles of racism. Setting Malcolm’s life not only within the Nation of Islam but against the larger backdrop of American history, the book traces the life of one of the twentieth century’s most politically relevant figures “from street criminal to devoted moralist and revolutionary.”
In tracing Malcolm X’s life from his Nebraska birth in 1925 to his Harlem assassination in 1965, Payne provides searing vignettes culled from Malcolm’s Depression-era youth, describing the influence of his Garveyite parents: his father, Earl, a circuit-riding preacher who was run over by a street car in Lansing, Michigan, in 1929, and his mother, Louise, who continued to instill black pride in her children after Earl’s death. Filling each chapter with resonant drama, Payne follows Malcolm’s exploits as a petty criminal in Boston and Harlem in the 1930s and early 1940s to his religious awakening and conversion to the Nation of Islam in a Massachusetts penitentiary.
With a biographer’s unwavering determination, Payne corrects the historical record and delivers extraordinary revelations―from the unmasking of the mysterious NOI founder “Fard Muhammad,” who preceded Elijah Muhammad; to a hair-rising scene, conveyed in cinematic detail, of Malcolm and Minister Jeremiah X Shabazz’s 1961 clandestine meeting with the KKK; to a minute-by-minute account of Malcolm X’s murder at the Audubon Ballroom.
Introduced by Payne’s daughter and primary researcher, Tamara Payne, who, following her father’s death, heroically completed the biography, The Dead Are Arising is a penetrating and riveting work that affirms the centrality of Malcolm X to the African American freedom struggle.
"The definitive biography of Malcolm X.... this biography isn't just important; it should be required reading." -- Gabino Iglesias ― NPR
"Malcolm’s presence is beautifully rendered...Nobody has written a more poetic account...Payne also shows how enthralling it was to watch Malcolm improvise and argue. In this scene and others, we are exposed to Malcolm’s teachings within the rhythm of Payne’s masterly storytelling." -- Michael P. Jeffries ― New York Times Book Review
"Fascinating and essential.... [Payne] adds invaluably to our understanding of Malcolm’s story." -- Mark Whitaker ― Washington Post
"Masterful... The Dead Are Arising is a meticulously researched, compassionately rendered, and fiercely analytical examination of the radical revolutionary as a human being." -- Kerri Greenidge ― The Atlantic
"The Dead Are Arising sets out to provide a much fuller picture of the life and death of Malcolm X, drawing on interviews with his friends and family to assess his contribution in the context of the times. The book is based on decades of painstaking research by Les Payne, who died before it was completed, and his daughter Tamara.... It is as much a history of US race relations as it is a biography of the black revolutionary.... The Dead Are Arising rightly sees Malcolm’s split from the cult-like Nation of Islam as inevitable, given the organisation’s reactionary political stances." -- Kehinde Andrews ― The Guardian