Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize, this biography of Malcolm X draws on hundreds of hours of the author's interviews, rewriting much of the known narrative. Les Payne, the 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.
...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.