Ilyasah Shabazz’s X: A Novel, written with Kekla Magoon, is the story of young Malcolm X. Before he became the legendary leader the world remembers, Malcolm was a young teen trying to find his way.
By Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon
What it is like to work on a book project collaboratively? A collaboration starts as a conversation. One that might go a little something like this…
ILYASAH: I’ve always thought of this book as telling the story of my father before becoming Malcolm X — about his foundation, who he was at his core and the challenges he faced like any other young person depending on their circumstances.
KEKLA: Malcolm, before the X.
ILYASAH: Right. The struggles that he went through as a young man, which parallel the struggles many young people experience and the journey he went through to overcome them. My father was an exceptionally introspective and brilliant man, which helped him rise above his circumstances. He deeply believed that everyone has great potential, and the capability to do whatever one chooses. He spent his life learning, sharing, teaching, and motivating other people.
KEKLA: We tend to remember Malcolm as an adult, for his speeches and his leadership. But you wanted people to understand the depth of where his passion for social justice really came from.
ILYASAH: I thought it was important to showcase who Malcolm was, starting from his roots. All of us start off as an innocent child influenced by the adults around us.
KEKLA: His parents were activists. He had that legacy within his family, but he was pulled from them by the forces of the world. His father was murdered, and his mother was institutionalized, essentially, for being a proud black woman who confronted authority.
ILYASAH: When my father’s parents were no longer in his life, he struggled. But he was able to find his own individual power. I want teens to understand that if they find obstacles in their path, they must persevere through them much like our ancestors, upon whose shoulders we all stand today. Which, again, speaks to the importance of history — knowing what we can and must accomplish. They should listen to the little voice inside that encourages them to keep going.
KEKLA: Malcolm spent his teen years running from that history, but he eventually found his way back. He finally became the person he was raised to be. This book explores the time during which he was running, and it’s such a crucial piece of his story.
ILYASAH: People tend to gloss over it. They like to say he “miraculously” transformed while he was in prison. Rather, he regained a conscious connection to the strong foundation provided by his parents. A lot of emotion, pain, education, and effort went into that transformation, and it was really a return to being the person he was always supposed to be. The person he was at his core, and would have always been, had not he met the man-made challenges experienced in his youth after the assassination of his dad, the institutionalizations of his mom, and separation from his siblings.
KEKLA: For me, it was really fascinating to spend time with the individual behind the legacy. Before working on X with you, I reread The Autobiography of Malcolm X and your own autobiography (Growing Up X), and some other titles you recommended to me. Personally, I would consider it a process of doing research about Malcolm, but for you, I know that “research” isn’t exactly the right word. You have a much deeper connection.
ILYASAH: This story has been inside of me for such a long time, and I’m so honored to have had the privilege to work with you on it. This book came from the stories shared by my mother throughout my childhood, and information I collected from my aunts and uncles.I spoke to a lot of people who worked with my father. Listening to the impact that he left on so many people was overwhelming, emotional, and very informative.
KEKLA: It’s such a huge and personal thing, learning about your father. It’s inspiring to me that you are able to put so much energy into sharing Malcolm’s story with others.
ILYASAH: Most people don’t understand who Malcolm really was. As one of his six daughters, it is important to me to continue working to keep his true message alive in the world.
KEKLA: I’ve heard you talk about that a lot, for you and your sisters — the honor and the privilege and the challenge of carrying your father’s legacy forward. You’ve spoken, written and taught about him all your life.
ILYASAH: My father’s life served as a source of inspiration. Most people don’t realize he was so young. When the world first heard of him he was only in his 20s, which is remarkable. He was only 39 when he was assassinated. He accomplished so much in such a short life. I thought it was important to focus on his teen years in this book, because Malcolm has had an impact on so many young people all over the world. Teens think he made these significant contributions as an old man, but they don’t realize that he was just like them. He was able to turn the challenges that he endured into a purpose-driven life of significance.
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Ilyasah Shabazz (left), third daughter of Malcolm X, is an activist, producer, motivational speaker, and author of the critically acclaimed Growing Up X and the picture book Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X. She lives in Westchester County, New York.
Kekla Magoon (right) is an award-winning author of many young adult novels, including The Rock and the River, for which she received the 2010 Coretta Scott King–John Steptoe Award for New Talent. Kekla Magoon lives in New York City.