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    « The Wisdom of Storytelling | Main | Virginia Woolf on Biography »
    Wednesday
    Feb102010

    Alex Haley, Roots and Family History

    In this Black History Month anyone interested in memoir, genealogy or family history should tip his hat to Alex Haley, the author of the sweeping 1976 novel Roots which was based loosely on six generations of his family’s history, who died on this day in 1992. The book traced the story of Haley’s family from the enslavement of his ancestor Kunta Kinte in Africa to Haley himself. The book became a phenomenon selling 4 million copies and watched as a TV mini-series by 130 million more. Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson said, “From the very beginning, Alex Haley’s Roots counted as so much more than a mere book.” It not only altered the dialogue on race in America, it triggered a huge popular interest in genealogy which has subsequently grown even stronger. Haley received a special Pulitzer Award and a National Book Award for Roots. The book was later plagued by controversies over plagiarism and the inaccuracy of some of Haley’s genealogy, but its impact has remained powerful.
    Haley wrote, “Young and old alike find that knowing one's roots, and thus coming better to know who one is, provides a personally rewarding experience. But even more is involved than uncovering a family history, for each discovered United States family history becomes a newly revealed small piece of American history.”

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