Author Interview: Ilyasah Shabazz on her latest literary work – “X, a Novel”



“Smoke everywhere. In the air, by the door, at the windows—- in our very bed, it seemed. Hot and dark, choking. Someone’s hands on me, dragging me up, then down. Stumbling over floorboards and furniture. Scooped up into strong arms. The first breath of cool, fresh night. We watched the house burn from the back of the yard. Papa said the members from the Black Legion— a Ku Klux Klan splinter group— came in the night, stood right outside our windows, and set the place on fire. They were angry at us for living on prime land that was supposed to be reserved for whites. But Papa had bought it fair and square.

The house burned down to the ground. 

We survived. Papa got us out: all of us kids and Mom. Papa knew how to fix things, even the really bad things. But once he was gone, it seemed like nothing could ever be made right. Who’s going to protect me now? I already know; the answer is no one.” — An excerpt from X, a Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz (with Kekla Magoon)


Written by: Melody Charles

Before he was an social activist, leader and global icon for Black Power, Malcolm X was Malcolm Little, a teenager torn from his family, broken in spirit by a racist society and scratching out a feral existence, high on arrogance and illegal substances as he ran the streets. With his buddy Shorty, Malcolm stole, robbed and lived ‘the thug life’ until his incarceration in 1946. Those angst and anxiety-filled years are captured with clarity Ilyasah Shabazz‘ latest literary work, X, a Novel, fictitiously rendered from those who knew and loved him best during that tumultuous time.

As the third daughter of the late Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz, Ilyasah has made it mission in life to preserve her parents’ goals, accurately re-brand Malcolm’s legacy and help other misdirected young people in the process. In an exclusive chat with Knowshi, Ms. Shabazz shared how she conceptualized X, what her family plans for Malcolm’s birthday and what we all must realize to move our youth and nation forward.

KNOWSHI- “Happy 2015 Ms. Shabazz, it’s an honor to chat with you again.”

Ilyasah Shabazz – “Oh you’re so welcome, Happy 2015 to you as well.”

KNOWSHI- I have to confess, this is one of the compelling books I’ve ever read: it’s really vivid and allows you to see and feel the urgency that Malcolm feels when he’s fending for himself, the loss from being separated from his family, his discouragement, everything. Was it hard to tap into that? 

Ilyasah – “I’m really relieved that that was how you felt—–one of the earlier reviews seemed hung up on saying that X was about Malcolm being mired in severe poverty, but [the novel] was more about the pain of a young man, similar to that of today’s young men and women. and how when you’re in such pain and feel alone, you do things that lead to self-destruction just because you don’t feel worthy of greatness. You see Malcolm making these different decisions and numbing his pain versus what a young person would do if he has a caring and responsible adult who’s nurturing and guiding them. I looked at the life of my young nephew (Malcolm Shabazz, who was murdered in 2013), who I loved more than anything. He would always tell me, “Auntie, my life is much like my grandfather’s.” I would say ‘Oh Malcolm please,‘ but the reality is that it was. Writing this book really helped me understand him and the challenges he endured, as well as those of many other young people.”

KNOWSHI- What I also appreciate about the book was the detail, the family tree and the context that created the backdrop for your father’s life. How were you able to create and have access to so many details? 

Ilyasah – “It was very easy to write the narrative, having heard the stories that were shared about my father from his siblings, neighbors and people who worked with him during the movement. As far as the background, there was a social climate that existed, the one that would create a reason for a Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.  What were they fighting what enabled these men to stand up against the violence being perpetrated against their own people. None of them were violent, but they all made the ultimate sacrifice to create change and social justice.”

KNOWSHI- It’s hard to believe that so many people still see Malcolm X as this hateful and violent man so many decades after his passing.

Ilyasah – “Malcolm wasn’t violent at all! He was fighting against violence. He was too compassionate and our history doesn’t seem to include an accurate portrayal and description of him. We have to be accountable to ourselves and responsible for ourselves and if we know that the education curriculum is not inclusive, then we have to take the time to change it. My father [actually went] around in search of a solution to this human condition knowing that his own life was in danger. And instead of running, he put people on his shoulders and did not ask for anything in return for her. It says so much about him, especially when the image portrayed of him was so incorrect.”

KNOWSHI- Why isn’t May 19th a holiday yet in his honor? When will that happen, if ever? 

Ilyasah – “The only way he’ll have a holiday is when the people he gave his life for rally and make sure that there is one for him, and that the truth of Malcolm is properly recorded in history. I think it’s the responsibility of the people he gave his life for, not necessarily and not only our family’s. For all the people who say that they love Malcolm, that he turned their lives around, brought purpose and significance to their lives. Those are the ones who need to press and make it happen.”

KNOWSHI- What’s next for your family and foundation?

Ilyasah – “The 50th memorial was on Feb 21st, so the family and the board held commemoration at the Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center in NY. In May we will have the 90th birthday celebrations.”

KNOWSHI- I certainly hope we can get that holiday to become a reality sooner rather than later Ms. Shabazz. One last question: how can we keep today’s young people on the straight and narrow so they won’t have to experience the turmoil that young Malcolm Little did as a teen?

Ilyasah – “If we know that our young men are wearing their pants down to their ankles, we have to make them pull their pants up and [then teach] why they must. We have to take responsible for our children. Look at how they’ve stood up to these recent injustices lately, telling the world that, yes, and ‘Black lives do matter.’  We have to stand up to be men, women, and family units and create the kind of environment where our kids feel safe and can become productive, capable and all these other great things.

When Malcolm was in the 7th grade, they choose him to be the Class President in an all-white school, in the 1930s. And when his teachers asked him what he wanted to be, he said he wanted to be a lawyer—-he’d seen that in his father, that you help, defend and stand up for people. The foundation had already been provided to Malcolm but I think it was very crushing to hear his favorite teacher tell him that the world would only see him as a [n word]. Who’s to say that his teacher meant to harm him? Maybe he was doing what he though was bet for him for the times, not considering how it is to a young child who’d lost his mother, lost his father, was separated from his siblings and seemed to be on his own. That’s how he ended up in Boston, saturating himself in pain and the illegal things he found. When you’re in pain, you don’t think you’re worthy of a whole lot, but for him to come into his own and eventually take the baton from his father, thank God for Malcolm.”

KNOWSHI- Thank God indeed Ms. Shabazz, bless you and your family for all that you continue to do in the memory of your parents. Finally, is that adapted journal still on the way? 

Ilyasah – “(laughing) Everything is on its way….can’t stop, won’t stop.”



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