Author Ilyasah Shabazz Discusses ‘X’ as Albion’s Big Read Gets Under Way

October 5, 2018

By Jake Weber

Professor of English Jess Roberts (left), director of Albion’s Big Read; Keena Williams (center), Albion College’s director of intercultural affairs; and author Ilyasah Shabazz discuss the book X at the Bohm Theatre.

“He loved butterflies and had a butterfly collection; he wrote poetry to his wife,” author Ilyasah Shabazz told an Albion audience on October 2. “He loved Michigan; this was his home.”

Shabazz’s often misunderstood father, Malcolm X, was one focus of her appearance in Albion. Shabazz is the author of four award-winning books, including the novel X, Albion’s choice for the 2018 Big Read.

X author Ilyasah Shabazz.

X, which covers the life of Malcolm Little from his Lansing boyhood through his incarceration and conversion to Islam, is an intimate and thought-provoking look at Malcolm X, whose controversial activism had a profound impact on the civil rights movement in the 1960s. In a panel discussion with Jess Roberts, professor of English and director of Albion’s Big Read, and Keena Williams, director of intercultural affairs and president’s special advisor for global diversity, Shabazz discussed her work as an author and her unique role in the history and future of civil rights activism.

Although she was only two years old at the time of her father’s assassination in 1965, Shabazz explained that her mother, Betty Shabazz, kept Malcolm’s presence felt for their six daughters.

“We had his hat in our breakfast nook, we had his clothes. He wore size 14 shoes and I used to clomp around the house in them,” Shabazz says. “But my mother did shelter us from a lot of what was going on in the world and she gave us a lot of love.”

Albion’s Big Read for 2018 opened October 2 in the Bohm Theatre.

Shabazz noted that she and her father both grew up without fathers; Malcolm’s father, whose “accidental” death was almost certainly murder, died when Malcolm was six. In X, Shabazz explores the idea that this loss triggered some of Malcolm’s criminal behavior. In the end, however, she is certain that his parents’ values and examples set the stage for Malcolm’s own self-discipline and passion for justice.

”When you have two humanitarian, two activist, two conscientious people for your parents, you are equipped with the necessary tools to navigate the challenges of society,” Shabazz said.

Shabazz noted she is working on a sequel to X, in which she hopes to further explore her father’s psychological and philosophical roots, including one that she thinks most people don’t see.

“I’m happy that I come from love,” she said. “My sisters and I had a father who died because he believed in love.”

The fruit of that love, she said, is the desire for justice for all, not just from governments and institutions, but from individuals.

“However I treat others is indicative of how I treat myself,” Shabazz said. “How you treat others is indicative of how you feel about yourself. We need to make sure children have the value to say they are worthy of treating others well.”