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YA novel by Malcolm X’s daughter selected as 2017-18 “Great Michigan Read”

Apr 12, 2017

"One title. One state. And thousands engaged in literary discussion."

That's the motto of the Great Michigan Read.
Every other year, the Michigan Humanities Council announces its choice for the Great Michigan Read. The goal is to give people across the state a chance to connect by reading and talking about the same book. 

This year, the 2017 Great Michigan Read is X : A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon.

Shabazz is the third daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz. She is an activist, a motivational speaker, an educator, and her book, X: A Novel, also won a 2016 NAACP Image Award.

Her tells the story of Malcolm X's life, from his days of growing up in Lansing, to his role as one of the most important black leaders of the Civil Rights era.

She joined Stateside to talk about how her father's story, which was written in his voice, connects to today's young adults.

"There are so many young people who are in these challenging places," Shabazz said. "And I thought that it was important. So many people look up to my father, and if you can recognize these moments of self questioning: Who am I? What is my value? Am I valuable? What is my worth? To think that you are nothing and no one and you can't aspire to be but so much, it hurts."

"[Malcolm X} was given a very strong foundation, and then society beat him down," Shabazz added. "And if you don't have people to protect you, and often times young people of color, they don't have people to protect them. And so it's a story that is so common, and it was a story that I felt compelled to share."

Skip ahead to 4:40 in the interview above to hear Shabazz talk about her father's Michigan roots, the challenge of revisiting some of the more painful events in his early life, and why this book will appeal to both white and black readers. 

Shelly Kasprzycki, executive director of the Michigan Humanities Council, also joined Stateside to talk about how the Great Michigan Read is chosen and why X: A Novel got the honor this year.

She said regional committees are set up, comprised of "literary folks" who choose from a selection of books that have a focus on or around the state of Michigan. Those books are then narrowed down through the committee until a final selection is made. 

"It's really done very carefully to ensure that we have a book that will appeal to a wide audience and that it has value," Kasprzycki said. "That will add to the humanities experience for everyone in Michigan and also will work well for programs that will go on to accompany the novel itself." 

The programs take place across the state of Michigan in libraries and community centers and are customized to fit each particular community.

So why did X: The Novel fit the bill for a Great Michigan Read? 

"We hope that [readers] develop a better understanding of the person that [Malcolm X] was and what he became," said Kasprzycki said. "Choices that we make in life, understanding how a prominent figure can really come from a background that may not have been what we all consider leadership material but indeed does lead us to become leaders. And so I think it speaks to all communities in how we shape young people and what comes out of adversity." 

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