The epic biography of Malcolm X, begun by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Les Payne P’88 and completed by his daughter Tamara Payne ’88, was named the winner of the 2020 National Book Award for Non-Fiction.
The National Book Foundation honored The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X at the 71st annual awards ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 18, with judges noting, “Les and Tamara Payne refuse a simplistic depiction of Malcolm X, one of our greatest, and most misunderstood, Americans. Malcolm’s story — the rise from ‘street criminal to devoted moralist and revolutionary’ — is as unlikely as it is profound. Incisive and comprehensive, this intensely human portrait is written with a dedicated beauty and uncompromising detail that matches Malcolm’s own life. The Dead Are Arising is the most accessible and compelling telling of it since the Autobiography.”
Tamara Payne earned her B.A. in English at HWS and at graduation was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. She went on to a career in teaching and real estate before joining her father as principal researcher in his work on what would become The Dead Are Arising.
Les Payne, a former editor at Newsday and a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, began working on the book in 1990. According to the publisher, he embarked on a “quest to interview anyone he could find who had actually known Malcolm X — all living siblings of the Malcolm Little family, classmates, street friends, cellmates, Nation of Islam figures, FBI moles and cops, and political leaders around the world. [Payne’s] goal was ambitious: to transform what would become over a hundred hours of interviews into an unprecedented portrait of Malcolm X, one that would separate fact from fiction.”
After her father’s death in 2018, Tamara continued the project, researching, editing and, finally, authoring the introduction to The Dead Are Arising, which was published in October to critical acclaim. Among other recognitions, the book has been long-listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction and named one of the New York Times Editors’ Choice “New Books to Watch Out for in October.”
As the New York Times review of the book explains, The Dead Are Rising “reconstructs the conditions and key moments of Malcolm’s life, thanks to hundreds of original interviews with his family, friends, colleagues and adversaries. Nobody has written a more poetic account…[Throughout the book] we are exposed to Malcolm’s teachings within the rhythm of Payne’s masterly storytelling.”