A blistering review of historian Manning Marable’s best-selling new biography of Malcolm X was rejected this week by TheRoot.com, a daily online magazine devoted to African American perspectives whose editor in chief, Henry Louis Gates Jr., is an admirer of Marable’s work.
“ ‘Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention’ is an abomination,” wrote reviewer Karl Evanzz. “It is a cavalcade of innuendo and logical fallacy, and is largely reinvented from previous works on the subject.”
Evanzz, a former Washington Post news researcher and author of a book on Malcolm X’s assassination, continued in that vein for more than 2,000 words.
Gates, on the book’s dust jacket, is quoted as saying: “Manning Marable has written the definitive biography of this outrageously misrepresented figure. He has plumbed countless historical records to bring out what is there, not what is imagined.”
Gates said Thursday, however, that he had no role in commissioning the review or deciding its fate.
“I haven’t read the review. I wasn’t consulted in any of the decisions,” he said. “I had no idea that it had been submitted or that it had been rejected.”
Evanzz said he turned in his review late last week. On Wednesday, the Root’s managing editor, Joel Dreyfuss, informed him that the piece would not be published. Evanzz said he was told he would receive a $100 kill fee.
“We turn down things all the time at the Root,” Dreyfuss said Thursday. “I don’t feel it’s fair to get into the details of why we turn something down. It’s not a fair thing to do to [Evanzz] or to our process.”
The Root is published by the Slate Group, a division of The Washington Post Co.
The flap is gaining attention in the intense world of Malcolm X studies, where theories about the civil rights leader’s life can be as polarizing as the man himself. The controversy was reported Wednesday on Richard Prince’s Journal-isms media criticism blog.
Two decades in the researching and writing, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” was the climactic act of scholarship for Marable, a prolific writer and professor at Columbia University, who died April 1, just days before publication. Marable’s 594-page opus broke news for mainstream readers by offering a theory on the civil rights leader’s 1965 assassination and naming the alleged conspirators. Marable also explored a possible gay relationship in Malcolm X’s youth. Such speculations previously had been confined largely to serious students of Malcolm X’s turbulent life and times.
Most reviews have been far more positive than Evanzz’s. The book will hit No. 3 on The Washington Post’s bestseller list Sunday.
Evanzz, the author of “The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X” (1992) and other works, has a different take. More recently, he has written and researched stories for the Root, and he was a researcher for NPR host Michele Norris’s recent memoir.
In his review — a shortened version of which he has posted on his blog — Evanzz challenges the quality of Marable’s research and chides Marable for “scurrilous” assertions about Malcolm X and people close to him.
But Evanzz said he has no hard feelings toward the Root. “I didn’t spend one minute worrying about them rejecting it, because I expected it,” he said.
The dueling appraisals of Marable’s book raise important questions that deserve wider discussion, said Jared Ball, an associate professor of communications studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore. He posted Evanzz’s review on his blog and discussed the matter on his Friday morning radio program on WPFW (89.3 FM) in the District.
“It’s a tough situation,” Ball said in an interview. “On the one hand, I greatly respect the career and work of Manning Marable.” But “I think the issues [Evanzz] raises in terms of research, scholarship, the claims of offering new revelations are valuable. I think people should read Marable’s book, read all the reviews, and go back and read all the literature, including Evanzz’s book, and see for themselves where the merit lies in Marable’s book.”