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A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon


Topics of Interest: social justice, equity, race relations, teenage angst, poverty, music, identity, dance

Curriculum Connections: English, Equity Studies, History

Gender: M/F

Age: 14+

Blurb: I’m a fabulous dancer. Okay, that is a blatant lie but I’m giving the power of positive thinking a try. If I keep saying it, perhaps it will come true. My toes are already tapping.

I love everything about music: the way its rhythm pumps through my veins and beats with my heart; its ability to reduce me to tears; the control it has over my memories of past events and eras. The thing about music is that you almost can’t not jump up and groove…it has that much energy. And, if the song is the right one, it’s okay that I don’t have any real moves.

I used to go to these dance halls in downtown Seattle that played Swing music. The males were dressed in zoot suits, the women in dresses. And the music—trumpets, saxophones, clarinets. It was awesome.

Malcolm Little discovered the draw of nightlife after joining his half-sister in Boston. A long way from his poverty-stricken childhood in Michigan, Malcolm immersed himself in the new culture, dancing and hustling his way through Boston’s, and then New York’s, best dance halls. Entertained by the likes of Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington, he lived life to the fullest.

But Malcolm (or “Detroit Red” as he was called on the streets) was haunted by the words of his deceased father, a civil rights activist. No amount of drugs, women, or respect could erase his feelings of inferiority and guilt. His father had told Malcolm that he would do great things: so why wasn’t he?

Before he was Malcolmx, Malcolm Little was a boy stealing food for his hungry family, a teen working odd jobs by day and partying hard at night, and a young black man fighting to find his place in a racist world.

We know the history of Malcomx. This is the story of Malcolm Little.

What makes the boy shapes the man.

Flavour: “We used to be so happy. Even after Papa died, when things got hard, nothing was so bad because we were together. But then things got harder, and the government social workers started coming by our house. Started pulling us apart, because there was never enough money. For food. For clothes. For the day-to-day necessities. By the time I was twelve, things got so bad, we’d be nervous every day when we came home. Often as not, there’d be a black car out front. The welfare man was calling.” (14)

“’Where you from, little man?….To understand a man, you have to know where he comes from,’ [said the old miner]. ‘Nowhere,’ I answer. ‘I’m starting over.’ Words have power, Papa used to say. Speak what you want to be true. ‘Where’d you get on the bus, then?’ he tries. ‘Where I used to live.’ He hoots with laughter. ‘You’re a wily one. You must be trouble.’ ‘That’s what they tell me,’ [I replied]. I can hear the voices. Troublemaker. No account. Just a nigger. I couldn’t ever be more than that in Lansing. Can’t ever be more anyplace, it turns out, as long as I wear this brown skin.” (42)

“I try not to think about missing [Papa]. Try not to wonder what he’d think of me now, a high-school dropout with a conk on my head and a white girl in my heart. What would he think of me trying to blend into a place I don’t belong? Would he say I was building my house where I wanted, the law for Negroes be damned? Isn’t this what he wanted—for me to turn my back on injustice by flouting the laws created for us blacks, no matter what might happen?” (199)

“I wake up every morning, buzzed and breathless, reminding myself that the night before wasn’t a dream. I really have hustler friends and jazz musician friends—I’m becoming part of the two corners of Harlem that fascinate me most. Getting into the street life is easy. I can just relax. Drink. Smoke. Walk around all loose. Speak my mind.” (214)

“I lie on the narrow cot, sober as I’ve been in what feels like a hundred years. I’m going absolutely mad with it. Crazy. Itching out of my skin. It’s not just the arrest that’s haunting me. It’s every bad thing that’s ever happened, bubbling to the surface. No high to help me rise above it. Any of it.” (318)


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