Sunny Hostin

‘X: A Novel’ is the Story of Malcolm X’s Childhood for Young Adults, Written by His Daughter

by Allison Chopin for New York Daily News

January 8, 2015 - Young Malcolm Little was told by his parents that he could be anything he wanted to be, but as a black boy in America in the 1930s, he quickly learns the cards are stacked against him.

His father has been killed. His mother, a “proud black woman,” is fired from her seamstress job when her employer realizes she’s not white. And while Malcolm is at the top of his class and dreams of becoming a lawyer, his English teacher tells him he should consider something more realistic, like carpentry.

“X: A Novel,” out this week, is the mostly untold story of the childhood of Malcolm Little, the boy who would later be known as Malcolm X. It’s novelized for young readers by Ilyasah Shabazz, the third daughter of Malcolm X, and co-written by Kekla Magoon.

Speaking with CNN’s Sunny Hostin at the book’s launch on Tuesday at the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan, the authors said their goals for the novel were to explore Malcolm’s roots in more detail than his autobiography and other writings had, to make his story more accessible, and to tell it in a way that teens could relate to.

They succeeded. In many ways, Malcolm’s youth is familiar. He boxes with his brother; he gets in trouble for pulling pranks at school; he meets the right girl but breaks up with her for the wrong one. He wants to fit in; he wants to impress; he wants to be someone.

“X” follows Malcolm from his childhood in Lansing, Mich., in the ‘30s, to the dance halls of Boston and the “hustling” streets of Harlem in his teen years, and finally to prison for burglary in 1946, at age 20.

While it’s written for young readers, the book doesn’t shy away from the gritty details of Malcolm’s life or the brutal realities of racism in the ’30s and ’40s. On the bus to Boston in 1940 at age 15, Malcolm gazes upon the body of a black man who’s been lynched, and that image never leaves him. Later, he’s almost beaten up for dating a white woman.

The medium of YA fiction, instead of straightforward biography, lets readers find themselves in the character of Malcolm. And his hardships are relatable, especially for young black men without a father figure, as Shabazz pointed out.

“It was very important that we connected with so many young people who grew up without their fathers,” she said.

And Malcolm’s young years are full of low points, from his family’s poverty in Lansing to drugs, gambling, violence and theft. But always lurking inside is that lesson from his father before he died: “When the time is right, you’re going to be a great leader.”

For co-author Magoon, that’s the takeaway for young readers of this novel, that they have worth and potential, even when they can’t see it. “You, the reader, can be anything you want to be,” she said.

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