ROOTS by Alex Haley
This pick is one of the most impactful books I've ever read; a groundbreaking twentieth century enduring work of literature that became a classic in the twenty-first century. Roots very much expanded my writing goals and informs how and what I write to this day. I was deeply encouraged by the late Alex Haley toward my own always-present desire to become a professional writer telling stories relevant to my culture and true to my experiences. At that time I didn't think the general public would read such stories. I also did not know how to present those stories in a universally relevant way. In literature's vast theater of human experience, there was little diversity in print. Mr. Haley 's writing style helped me learn how to implement an all inclusive voice while telling my unique story. His success showed me that all kinds of people wanted to read these kind of stories. Roots was groundbreaking literature that kicked the door open for people like myself and other minorities concerning racial identity in light of writing our stories. Haley's work also helped change my self image in a big way as it did for many African Americans.
It was 1975, on the heels of a declining civil rights movement that had ignited our pride and brought black America into a renewed self awareness. It was into this atmosphere came the saga of Roots. Mr. Haley brought us a poignant chronicle of his family's bloodline and heritage. The timing was perfect. Cultural and hereditary identity were very much an ongoing focus in the African American community. Unheard of was the successful tracing of one's African ancestors. Highlighting his own roots by way of his African forefathers took all Americans, regardless to race, on an amazing historical journey. One that reverberates even now as finding one's roots is deeply entrenched in our modern culture. Haley's book was made into a very successful television movie exposing his personal journey for all the world watch. The movie made Haley a highly celebrated writer and commercial success with various sequels and spin-offs resulting to date. Roots also opened the door for more quality black American history to be accepted in mainstream literature and movie making. It spoke dignity and heritage into the experience of African Americans, giving us a voice grander and more defined from our historical ancestral enslavement. It magnificently demonstrated the beauty, strength and adaptability of a people stripped of heart, home and heritage. Kunte Kinte and his endearingly enduring descendants are certainly iconic characters in my African American profile and my personal library.
I had the honor of meeting Alex Haley when I was secretary of the Black Student Union, in college. He was a humble gentleman who was obviously passionate about his craft and the personal story he was telling. Not only was he a good writer, he was an excellent speaker who kept listeners interested in every word during his lectures and in one on one conversations as well. The BSU officers had a delightfully entertaining dinner with him and that experience has been one of the highlights of my life. This was in 1973 a few years prior to his book and movie releases. He was already touring and speaking on his research experiences and his trip to Africa. He had slides and documents for visual aides. Perhaps they would pale in comparison to our current technology but it was an excellent touch to a wonderful lecture at that time. I humbly admit, I did not fully appreciate the experience back then. I knew of Alex Haley solely as the writer of the Malcolm X autobiography which also is a good read. During the BSU's private time with Mr Haley, he talked about his career more specifically as a black writer, the hardships and disappointments. He described his experiences tracking his roots from the verbal storytelling of his older relatives; a story indelibly seared in his spirit as well as his mind. From those stories he set out on a year after year after year trek to identify his African ancestors. Haley's love of writing and desire cranked up by determination to know his earthly roots makes for a memorable fiction-from-fact classic for anyone's library.
Mr. Haley encountered some legal difficulties after Roots was written. He was sued and taken to court by Harold Courlander for plagiarizing some passages from his book, The African. Haley denied the accusation but admitted that the very similar wording would be suspect. It was then settled out of court. In recent years a few people have taken that incident to state Mr. Haley did not write Roots at all. However, no one has come up with any solid proof to legitimize that statement. Roots apparently had such an impact that people somewhere wants to give it a bad light. Denouncing Alex Haley's authorship is an effective way to accomplish that. For the record, I believe Mr. Haley wrote Roots and all its follow up stories and the nay-sayers will have to come up with real concrete proof to change my mind.
The book is better than the movie... the original television mini series was very well done. It was ground breaking for that time. There has been another more recent made movie but I haven't seen it. I recommend anyone liking the movies to read the book as well. Revisiting the original story can be an even more satisfying experience.