Malcom X Scholar Dies As Life's Work Publishes

Columbia University professor Manning Marable died at age 60 on Friday, just three days before the publication of his life's work, a comprehensive biography of Malcolm X. Guest host David Greene speaks with Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson about Marable and his book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, which comes out on Monday.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

The life of Malcolm X was the life's work of Manning Marable. He spent years sifting through diaries, archives and government documents to produce a seminal work: "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention." Tragically, Marable died in a New York hospital on Friday, just three days before the release of his book. The biography comes out tomorrow. Georgetown University professor and public radio host Michael Eric Dyson has read an advance copy of the biography, and joins us in the studio to talk about this. Thanks for being here, professor.

Professor MICHAEL ERIC DYSON (Sociology, Georgetown University, Public Radio Host): Yeah, thanks for having me.

GREENE: The reality is, we were about ready to be doing interviews - journalists were - with Marable about this book, coming up this week. And that's no longer going to happen. But I hope you can help us try to understand what he was after. He put a lot of work into this book. I mean, it sounds like this book is going to reveal a lot - and a lot of nuance that people might not have really understood.

Mr. DYSON: Well, I think so. I mean, there will startling revelations factually, but I think the broader picture is that Malcolm X was a deeply and profoundly powerful human being - who had flaws, to be sure. But Manning Marable's brilliance is that he's able to illuminate the utter humanity of the man without distracting us with minutiae that will be sensational while nonetheless, focusing brilliantly and courageously on some of the stuff that's not so savory, but getting to a broader point that Malcolm X worked in a culture at a time when things were nearly impossible for self-expression among black people.

And Malcolm X took the conversation forward, and fought against forces from within his own community as well as outside to make that possible.

GREENE: And how was Marable seen within the scholarly community?

Mr. DYSON: I think that the unfortunate convergence of his death and his posthumous revelation of Malcolm's life will at least add a gravitas and a sense of forbearance, perhaps, that others will, you know, not pull the trigger so quickly - and look at this work. This is an enormously exhaustive biography that will be definitive for a while.

He looked at diaries and FBI files and government documents, and he really scoured the entire landscape for every bit of information about Malcolm X, looking beyond the self-mythology of the classic autobiography and the kind of hateful assaults upon him in a broader culture as well as the adoring hagiography of acolytes.

So, what Manning Marable provides for us is a powerful work that gives a complex, complicated, colored and colorful nuanced perspective of a figure and leader. And if people read that, I feel fully confident that they will understand that he loved Malcolm X, he appreciated what he did. And this work is his attempt to try to get things right.

GREENE: That's Michael Eric Dyson. He's a radio host and a professor of sociology at Georgetown University. Professor, thanks for being here.

Mr. DYSON: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: This is NPR News.

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