Manning Marable, dead at 60

Tragic.  Sixty seems far too young in the lifetime of a scholar.  From the New York Times obituary: 

At nearly 600 pages, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” to be published by Viking, presents a hefty counterweight to the well-known account “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

The autobiography, long considered a classic of the 1960s civil rights struggle, was an “as told to” book written with Alex Haley and published in 1965.

Mr. Marable, drawing on new sources, archival material and government documents unavailable to Mr. Haley, developed a fuller account of Malcolm X’s politics, religious beliefs and personal life, as well as his role in the civil rights movement and the circumstances of his assassination.

He also offers a revisionist portrait of Malcolm X at odds with Mr. Haley’s presentation of him as an evolving integrationist.

“We need to look at the organic evolution of his mind and how he struggled to find different ways to empower people of African descent by any means necessary,” Mr. Marable said in a 2007 interview with Amy Goodman on the radio program “Democracy Now.”

His long-awaited book Malcolm X:  A Life of Reinvention will be published tomorrow.

0 thoughts on “Manning Marable, dead at 60

  1. The _Times_ yesterday ccompanied the obit with a front page story about the actual conception and crafting of the book and the irony of the author’s death as it was about to appear. For a scholar of whom some elements of biography weave through the work you do, obituaries themselves are a strange but compelling subgenre of journalism. If journalism is the “first draft” of history, I guess obits are the tweets of future biographies.

    Since I can remember fairly vividly sledding on the front lawn the night the “breaking news” of Malcolm’s death came in, I’d have to agree that 60 is the new 30: waaaaaaay too young for a scholar (or anybody else) to go. In some sense, you’re just figuring out how to do it around that time.


  2. I just feel unspeakably sad for him and his wife, who is also a scholar, that he couldn’t have lived at least a little while longer to enjoy the reception of the book, and to engage in debates and conversations with other scholars about his exhaustive research.

    I’ll go with 60 as the new 40, maybe. (What the hell did I know at 30?)


  3. You have recommended some awesome books, Historiann. I am currently reading the “Telling Histories” anthology of autobiographical pieces by black women historians. One thing I have noticed is that almost all of them are pretty old, having gotten their starts in academia in the 1970s and 1980s. Does that reflect demographic trends in the history profession?


  4. Thanks, CPP. It’s an interesting question you raise. The essays by the 1990s Ph.D.’s like Mia Bay and Jennifer Morgan are towards the end of the book. (There may be one Ph.D. from the 2000s–I don’t know.) African American Studies/Ethnic Studies departments have always been embattled, but at least back in the late 1960s and 70s when they were founded they got a few tenure lines and were able to hire that some of that founding generation of scholars. Given the larger trends in humanities faculty positions we’ve been talking about, my guess is that those departments have suffered even worse in the last decade or 15 years than most “traditional” academic disciplines.


  5. I knew Manning Marable many years ago, though had not been in touch for a long time, and was completely shocked to read of his death. I always thought I would have a chance to meet up with him again sometime.
    One of the first articles I ever published, a very short piece on Mozambique, appeared in 1984 in a short-lived publication that Manning edited, Third World Socialists. I still have the letter from him accepting my article, which I wrote in Mozambique and mailed back to the US. Cornel West also has an article in that issue, on the black church and socialist politics, so I was in exalted company!


  6. Piggybacking on what you write in your comment to CPP, Historiann, I think another effect of the shrinking humanities job market, at least in English, is that “first books” tend to reflect less substantial revision, and a quicker time from dissertation to book, than maybe was the case historically. Also, there is a real sense that the dissertation/first book needs to be a “job-seeking document,” and so it’s not until people are to the point of a second or third book that they can do the “really neat project that you just can’t do until after tenure.” Combine that with the fact that many people get tracked into contingent positions…. Well, I think it has an effect on the kind of scholarship that one sees from more recent generations of scholars.


  7. Sixty is much too young. When I was in college a professor who had just retired, but was still teaching, told us that good historians were like wine, they improved with age. I hold on to that 🙂


  8. Thanks for this, Brandon. Very interesting–I haven’t read the book, but the charges of not tracking down the primary sources are worth investigating. If Karl Evanzz’s charges are borne out, Marable wouldn’t be the first prominent scholar to have “borrowed” heavily from the secondary literature without attribution.


  9. In his Malcolm X biography Marable makes a passing reference to the Israeli military action of 1956 in Suez and attributes it to Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal. One need not be an historian to know that Israel acted on account of persistent terrorist raids from Egypt. The nationalization of the Canal motivated Britain and France, both of which Marable fails to mention, not Israel. Apparently, to Marable it was OK to lie about Jews. Everything he wrote is tainted by this dishonesty.


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