Roots (Haley)

Roots:  The Saga of an American Family
Alex Haley, 1974
Vanguard
912 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781593154493



Summary
One of the most important books and television series ever to appear, Roots, galvanized the nation, and created an extraordinary political, racial, social and cultural dialogue that hadn’t been seen since the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The book sold over one million copies in the first year, and the miniseries was watched by an astonishing 130 million people. It also won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Roots opened up the minds of Americans of all colors and faiths to one of the darkest and most painful parts of America’s past.

Over the years, both Roots and Alex Haley have attracted controversy, which comes with the territory for trailblazing, iconic books, particularly on the topic of race. Some of the criticism results from whether Roots is fact or fiction and whether Alex Haley confused these two issues, a subject he addresses directly in the book. There is also the fact that Haley was sued for plagiarism when it was discovered that several dozen paragraphs in Roots were taken directly from a novel, Roots, by Harold Courlander, who ultimately received a substantial financial settlement at the end of the case.

But none of the controversy affects the basic issue. Roots fostered a remarkable dialogue about not just the past, but the then present day 1970s and how America had fared since the days portrayed in Roots.

Vanguard Press feels that it is important to publish Roots: The 30th Anniversary Edition to remind the generation that originally read it that there are issues that still need to be discussed and debated, and to introduce to a new and younger generation, a book that will help them understand, perhaps for the first time, the reality of what took place during the time of Roots. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—August 11, 1921
Raised—Ithaca, New York, USA
Death—February 10, 1992
Where—Seattle, Washington
Awards—Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; Pulitzer Prize


Alex Haley was an American writer. He is best known as the author of the 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family. It was adapted by ABC as a TV mini-series of the same name and aired in 1977 to a record-breaking 130 million viewers. It had great influence on awareness in the United States of African-American history and inspired a broad interest in genealogy and family history.

Haley had previously written The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), a collaboration through numerous lengthy interviews with the subject, a major African-American leader.

He was working on a second family history novel at his death. Haley had requested that David Stevens, a screenwriter, complete it; the book was published as Alex Haley's Queen. It was adapted as a film of the same name released in 1993.

Early life
Alex Haley was born in Ithaca, New York, on August 11, 1921, and was the oldest of three brothers and a sister. Haley lived with his family in Henning, Tennessee, before returning to Ithaca with his family when he was five years old. Haley's father was Simon Haley, a professor of agriculture at Alabama A&M University, and his mother was Bertha George Haley (nee Palmer) who was from Henning. The younger Haley always spoke proudly of his father and the obstacles of racism he had overcome.

Like his father, Alex Haley was enrolled at age 15 in Alcorn State University, a historically black college, and, a year later, enrolled at Elizabeth City State College, also historically black, in North Carolina. The following year he returned to his father and stepmother to tell them he had withdrawn from college.

His father felt that Alex needed discipline and growth, and convinced him to enlist in the military when he turned 18. On May 24, 1939, Haley began what became a 20-year career with the United States Coast Guard.

US Coast Guard
Haley enlisted as a mess attendant. Later he was promoted to the rate of petty officer third-class in the rating of steward, one of the few ratings open to African Americans at that time. It was during his service in the Pacific theater of operations that Haley taught himself the craft of writing stories. During his enlistment he was often paid by other sailors to write love letters to their girlfriends. He said that the greatest enemy he and his crew faced during their long voyages was not the Japanese forces but rather boredom.

After World War II, Haley petitioned the U.S. Coast Guard to allow him to transfer into the field of journalism. By 1949 he had become a petty officer first class in the rating of journalist. He later advanced to chief petty officer and held this grade until his retirement from the Coast Guard in 1959. He was the first Chief Journalist in the Coast Guard, the rating having been expressly created for him in recognition of his literary ability.

Haley's awards and decorations from the Coast Guard include the Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal (with 1 silver and 1 bronze service star), American Defense Service Medal (with "Sea" clasp), American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Korean Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, and the Coast Guard Expert Marksmanship Medal.[7] Additionally, he was awarded the War Service Medal by the Republic of Korea ten years after his death.

Literary career
After retiring from the U.S. Coast Guard, Haley began another phase of his journalism career. He eventually became a senior editor for Reader's Digest magazine.

Playboy magazine
Haley conducted the first interview for Playboy magazine. His interview with jazz musician Miles Davis appeared in the September 1962 issue. Haley elicited candid comments from Davis about his thoughts and feelings on racism. That interview set the tone for what became a significant feature of the magazine. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Playboy Interview with Haley was the longest he ever granted to any publication.

Throughout the 1960s, Haley was responsible for some of the magazine's most notable interviews, including one with George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party. He agreed to meet with Haley only after gaining assurance from the writer that he was not Jewish. Haley remained professional during the interview, although Rockwell kept a handgun on the table throughout it. (The interview was recreated in Roots: The Next Generations, with James Earl Jones as Haley and Marlon Brando as Rockwell.)

Haley also interviewed Muhammad Ali, who spoke about changing his name from Cassius Clay. Other interviews include Jack Ruby's defense attorney Melvin Belli, entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., football player Jim Brown, TV host Johnny Carson, and music producer Quincy Jones.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Published in 1965, The Autobiography of Malcolm Xwas Haley's first book. It describes the trajectory of Malcolm X's life from street criminal to national spokesman for the Nation of Islam to his conversion to Sunni Islam. It also outlines Malcolm X's philosophy of black pride, black nationalism, and pan-Africanism. Haley wrote an epilogue to the book summarizing the end of Malcolm X's life, including his assassination in New York's Audubon Ballroom.

Haley ghostwrote the autobiography based on more than 50 in-depth interviews he conducted with Malcolm X between 1963 and the February 1965 assassination. The two men had first met in 1960 when Haley wrote an article about the Nation of Islam for Reader's Digest. They met again when Haley interviewed Malcolm X for Playboy.

The first interviews for the autobiography frustrated Haley. Rather than discussing his own life, Malcolm X spoke about Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam; he became angry about Haley's reminders that the book was supposed to be about Malcolm X. After several meetings, Haley asked Malcolm X to tell him something about his mother. That question drew Malcolm X into recounting his life story.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X has been a consistent best-seller since its 1965 publication. The New York Times reported that six million copies of the book had sold by 1977. In 1998, Time magazine ranked the book as one of the 10 most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century.

In 1966, Haley received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Roots
In 1976, Haley published Roots: The Saga of an American Family, a novel based on his family's history, going back to slavery days. It started with the story of Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped in the Gambia in 1767 and transported to the Province of Maryland to be sold as a slave.

Haley claimed to be a seventh-generation descendant of Kunta Kinte, and his work on the novel involved ten years of research, intercontinental travel and writing. He went to the village of Juffure, where Kunta Kinte grew up and which had continued, and listened to a tribal historian (griot) tell the story of Kinte's capture. Haley also traced the records of the ship, The Lord Ligonier, which he said carried his ancestor to the Americas.

Haley has stated that the most emotional moment of his life occurred in 1967 when he stood at the site in Annapolis, Maryland, where his ancestor had arrived from Africa in chains exactly 200 years before. A memorial depicting Haley reading a story to young children gathered at his feet has since been erected in the center of Annapolis.

Roots was eventually published in 37 languages. Haley won a special Pulitzer Prize for the work in 1977. The same year, Roots was adapted as a popular television miniseries of the same name by ABC. The serial reached a record-breaking 130 million viewers. Roots emphasized that African Americans have a long history and that not all of that history is necessarily lost, as many believed. Its popularity also sparked a greatly increased public interest in genealogy.

In 1979, ABC aired the sequel miniseries, Roots: The Next Generations, which continued the story of Kunta Kinte's descendants. It concluded with Haley's travel to Juffure. Haley was portrayed at different ages by Kristoff St. John, The Jeffersons actor Damon Evans, and Tony Award winner James Earl Jones.

Haley was briefly a "writer in residence" at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where he began work on Roots. He enjoyed spending time at The Savoy, a local bistro in nearby Rome, where he would sometimes pass the time listening to the piano player. Today, there is a special table in honor of Haley, with a painting of Haley writing Roots on a yellow legal tablet

Later life and death
In the late 1970s, Haley began working on a second historical novel based on another branch of his family, traced through his grandmother Queen, the daughter of a black slave woman and her white master. Unable to finish the novel before his death, he had requested that David Stevens complete it. Published as Alex Haley's Queen, it was subsequently adapted as a movie of the same name in 1993.

Late in his life, Haley had acquired a small farm in Norris, Tennessee, adjacent to the Museum of Appalachia, intending to live there. After his death, the property was sold to the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) and is now known as The Alex Haley Farm. The CDF uses the property as a national training center and retreat site. An abandoned barn on the property was redesigned as a traditional cantilevered barn by architect Maya Lin and serves as a library for the CDF.

Haley died of a heart attack on February 10, 1992, in Seattle, Washington. He was 70 years old and is buried beside his childhood home in Henning, Tennessee. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/9/2012.)



Book Reviews
The book is an act of love, and it is this which makes it haunting.
New York Times


Roots is a study of continuities, of consequences, of how a people perpetuate themselves, how each generation helps to doom, or helps to liberate, the coming one (A Times Book of the Century).
Charles McGrath - New York Times Books


A Pulitzer Prize-winning story about the family ancestry of author Alex Haley... [and] a symbolic chronicle of the odyssey of African Americans from the continent of Africa to a land not of their choosing.
Washington Post


A gripping mixture of urban confessional and political manifesto, it not only inspired a generation of black activists, but drove home the bitter realities of racism to a mainstream white liberal audience.
Observer (UK)


Groundbreaking.
Associated Press


(Starred review.) [T]he story of the young African boy named Kunte Kinte, who in the late 1700s was kidnapped from his homeland and brought to the United States as a slave. Haley follows Kunte Kinte's family line over the next seven generations, creating a moving historical novel spanning 200 years.
Publishers Weekly


When Roots was published in the mid-1970s, America was still in a period of introspection caused by all things Watergate and the bicentennial celebration. Haley's self-described "novelized amalgam" chronicled seven generations of his family, from West Africa to the United States and back. Roots—both the book and the groundbreaking TV miniseries that followed—became a cultural phenomenon.  [Though listed as nonfiction on the cover, Roots is generally considered historical fiction. - Ed.]
Library Journal


Roots is the fictionalized account of Alex Haley's family history and an epic narrative of the African American experience.... The story traces Haley's family history from the imagined birth of his ancestor Kant Kin in an African village in 1750 to the death, seven generations later, of his father in Arkansas. Based on fifteen years of research by Haley, the novel is a combination of fact and fiction...that puts a human face on the suffering of black people through the ordeal of the Middle Passage, slavery, and Jim Grow. Its combination of compelling, affectionate storytelling and informative history has had a revolutionary effect on the way Americans—black and white—think about the history of a people.
Sacred Fire



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