...this kind of textured attention to Black life and community, whether in Omaha or Boston, Atlanta or Accra, distinguishes Les Payne’s masterful biography, The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X ... a meticulously researched, compassionately rendered, and fiercely analytical examination of the radical revolutionary as a human being ... a portrait that pushes us beyond the adolescent hero worship that many in my generation cling to in our current political moment as we reread Malcolm X, C. L. R. James, Angela Davis, and other Black thinkers ... With new information gleaned from decades of research, Payne sheds fresh light on key moments in Malcolm’s political journey ... Because Payne takes the memories and views of Black communities seriously—because he never assumes that Malcolm’s Black contemporaries experienced him in the same way that we describe him in the present—The Dead Are Arising provides an invaluable glimpse into the mechanics of community mobilization led by Black women ... The Dead Are Arising forces us to ask deeper, more complicated questions about the Black people and places from which our heroes come.
Readers may pick up this biography hoping for a celebration of Black pride and resilience in the midst of madness. Payne, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who devoted nearly 30 years to the book before his death in 2018, meets these needs intermittently, but that is not his primary goal. Malcolm’s presence is beautifully rendered, but The Dead Are Arising, which was ultimately completed by Payne’s daughter and principal researcher, Tamara Payne, is not a tribute or enshrinement of achievements. Instead, it reconstructs the conditions and key moments of Malcolm’s life, thanks to hundreds of original interviews with his family, friends, colleagues and adversaries. Nobody has written a more poetic account ... This book reveals more of Malcolm’s childhood than we have ever seen ... One possible criticism is that Payne does not provide an exhaustive account of Malcolm’s political philosophy. The book contains little analysis of Malcolm’s most celebrated speeches, debates or interviews. Instead, Payne most fully presents Malcolm’s ideas in contrast to those of both Muhammad and Martin Luther King Jr. ... we are exposed to Malcolm’s teachings within the rhythm of Payne’s masterly storytelling ... The details of the killing have never been totally clear, but Payne’s narrative is exacting.
... a pensive, lyrical, and finely wrought portrait ... the most in-depth and personal examination of the forces that shaped his life to date ... His death sent the Little family adrift, a harrowing descent that Payne documents with richly detailed vignettes, culling new dimensions that push back against the hagiography of Alex Haley’s best-selling The Autobiography of Malcolm X ... Payne’s contrasting style elicits great benefits when discussing The Nation of Islam (NOI) in comparison to largely white religious groups, such as Mormons, whose teachings, beliefs, and contradictions were, at the time, more readily accepted than the NOI’s were ... Payne’s biography reaches its peak with an extraordinary chapter detailing Malcolm’s successful efforts to build an NOI mosque in Hartford, Connecticut ... The Dead Are Arising falters in grappling with Malcolm’s political thought and activism. His relationship to Martin Luther King Jr. and the larger Black freedom struggle requires more historical analysis. At times it feels as though the book is galloping toward its conclusion just as readers grow accustomed to the intimate pace that has been set up during its first three quarters ... This biography of Malcolm, revelatory in so many ways, views the icon from the inside out. The Dead Are Arising brilliantly crafts a new origin story of the most important working-class Black leader ever produced. By reinvestigating the story that Malcolm wanted the world to believe and exposing his elisions, mistakes, and contradictions, Les and Tamara Payne have produced an exceedingly valuable and important biography that adds immeasurably to our understanding of Malcolm X.
Payne focuses his sharp investigative lens on the life of an enigmatic American icon whose life and death continue to fascinate ... In addition to revisiting long lost primary sources, he began a massive effort in conducting oral research interviews. Masterfully, he wove together the memories of friends, family, acquaintances, informants, and adversaries into a rich tapestry from which emerges the portrait of a complex individual working to make change in a society also full of contradictions ... By giving a second life to a historical Malcolm, Les Payne’s timely biography illustrates something really important. It reminds us that those making history often do so by having the courage and conviction to act in spite of their limitations.
Pulitzer Prize winner Les Payne’s monumental and absorbing The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X peers into the gaps left by Malcolm X’s autobiography, taking us more deeply into the intimate details of his life, work and death ... essential reading ... it illustrates the forces that shaped Malcolm X and captures the vibrant voice of a revolutionary whose words resonate powerfully in our own times.
Previous works have often relied on conjecture and redacted, declassified FBI files, but the Paynes have assiduously sought primary sources. Drawing on thousands of hours of first-hand interviews, eye-witness accounts and personal documents, they assemble a more holistic picture of Malcolm X’s evolution ... Malcolm emerges as a vengeful critic of black and white detractors, nursing a deep well of hurt and unmasked seething resentment towards white supremacists, the cause of so much tragedy for his family ... the most compelling section of The Dead Are Arising focuses on his breach with the movement, following its leader Elijah Muhammad’s instruction in 1961 that he negotiate with the Klan ... unprecedented testimonies show how, in publicly denouncing Muhammad, Malcolm incensed former allies who plotted his murder with the 'advance knowledge' of the FBI ... this 640-page book...captures the uncompromising clarity that speaks to this moment of Black Lives Matter.
... painstaking research ... The Paynes avoid the mistakes of the last attempt at a comprehensive biography ... There is no comparable sensationalism in the Paynes’ book ... Little new is added to the tale of Malcolm’s life of crime, and the book oddly takes its title from the idea that black Americans were dead until they converted and rose into the NOI. True, Malcolm’s political solutions, in particular the creation of the Organisation of Afro-American Unity in 1964, are discussed, but only briefly. And there is too little on the deep and decades-long international dimension to his activism. The focus on his assassination is unfortunate because it covers familiar ground ... The least interesting part of Malcolm’s life was his death. He remains largely misrepresented as a tragic figure, who transformed his life, became a beacon of hope but had no real plan for where he was headed.
[The] definitive biography of Malcolm X ... The Dead Are Arising isn't only a biography of Malcom X, it is a book that contextualizes race in America prior to Malcolm's birth, takes an in-depth, nuanced, unflinching look at Malcolm's life, and then explores his death and its aftermath, all backed by 28 years of research ... Besides offering a rich, well-informed chronicle of Malcolm's life, Payne spent a lot of time making sure readers understood his formative years ... Les Payne was an outstanding researcher, and so is Tamara Payne, who worked to see this book finished after Les Payne's death ... it should be required reading.
...indispensible ... While The Dead Are Arising lacks the meticulous narrative structure and scholarly elegance of A Life of Reinvention, it never indulges in the sort of speculative sexual sideshow that has (in part) made Marable’s mostly brilliant biography so controversial ... draws on decades of extensive and remarkably revealing interviews ... more than any other writer before him, Payne draws on extensive interviews with Malcolm’s own brothers and sisters ... The Dead Are Arising also provides unique perspective on Malcolm X’s 1965 assassination ... The book greatly expands our understanding of a revolutionary figure whose influence endures without parallel ... a rich and powerful portrait.
As renewed calls for Black liberation fill the streets and the airwaves, what better time to review the legacy of one of the most influential proponents of Black independence, Malcolm X ... monumental ... Payne’s Malcolm is less a revolutionary than part of a continuum of Black struggle.
... less a formal portrait and more an impressionist mosaic made up of the strongest fragments of Payne’s reporting ... Payne’s is very much a journalist’s book, focused on clearing up factual disputes and re-creating fly-on-the-wall details, and he adds invaluably to our understanding of Malcolm’s story at three key junctures in particular ... More than 50 pages of Payne’s book are devoted to the events surrounding Malcolm’s assassination in February 1965, while he was giving a Sunday afternoon speech at the Audubon Ballroom north of Harlem, and the account is gripping ... At other points, Payne’s research becomes a bit too exhaustive ... A little more personal confession would have explained Payne’s lifelong obsession with Malcolm X and elevated the narrative voice of this book another notch.
The Dead Are Arising, a new biography of Malcolm X, is timely. But perhaps this sobering book’s clearest message is that it will always be timely, because the story it narrates is timeless. In 1964 it would be Harlem, in 1965 Watts, in 1967 Detroit. Today, it’s Minneapolis and Louisville ... Les and Tamara Payne are especially good in detailing these early years of delinquency and rebirth. Like Robert Caro’s life of Lyndon Johnson, The Dead Are Arising delves deeply into the wider context of Malcolm’s world, sometimes leaving Malcolm himself on the sideline.
The Paynes, fortified by hundreds of interviews with family and associates, have thrown some fresh light on the legend ... The Paynes do not spare us the details of Malcom’s own villainy ... His time in jail is told less as a religious epiphany and more as an education in verbal dexterity as a survival tool. They are less forthcoming on his violence to women, white and black, or his barely suppressed antisemitism and homophobia.
It’s to this biography’s credit that it attempts to scrape away some of the mythology ... The book’s chief virtue is that it gives a voice to Malcolm’s brothers, Wilfred and Philbert. It has a sharp eye, too, for the social divisions in the black community, some of them based on the hierarchy of skin tone ... Sad to say, however, most of this 500-odd page narrative is rambling and repetitive. The authors might have been better advised to write a shorter book focusing on the family interviews. He gives us far too much on Malcolm’s criminal career and then skates through his rise and fall as a national leader ... The authors try to crank up the tension in the final pages, but the prose is so wooden that the final scene of mayhem seems almost an anticlimax. You end this book admiring Malcolm’s courage and sense of destiny, but concluding that Martin Luther King will win the argument in the end.
This month, for the second time in a decade, a new biography strips away some of the mythmaking to bring a more nuanced Malcolm to the public ... The Dead Are Arising offers only a partial corrective to earlier works, an incremental turn in the long-evolving story of one of history’s most visible and confounding activists. Payne frequently revises or expands the historical record, offering the most detailed new account of Malcolm’s early years ... But the Paynes don’t touch Malcolm’s intimacies or examine his legacy. The book sometimes feels incomplete, leaving out crucial moments.
Completed by his daughter and researcher, Payne’s richly detailed account is based on hundreds of interviews with Malcolm X’s family members, childhood friends, cellmates, allies, and enemies, and meticulously tracks his journey ... an extraordinary and essential portrait of the man behind the icon.