Editor’s Note: Due to the reaction in the Black intellectual community over the posthumous awarding of Dr. Manning Marable the Pulitzer prize, Polite On Society is initiating a discussion on it. In this post, we have tapped Prof. Karen Johnson of the University of Utah to inform us why the Pulitzer is deserved. If anyone wants to argue to the contrary, they can contact me at email@example.com -M.W.P
Why Dr. Marable’s Pulitzer Prize Is Well Deserved
by Prof. Karen Johnson
I was very elated to hear the news that the late Dr. Manning Marable posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize Award, in the category of “Letters and Drama/Biography,” for his book, “A Life of Reinvention: Malcolm X.” Marable’s particular Prize is awarded to U.S. authors, who have written a distinguished biography.
Marable’s award makes him the second African-American who has won the Pulitzer Prize in the area of biography and autobiography. David Levering won the Prize in 2001 for “W.E.B. Dubois, 1919-1963.” Additionally, other African-Americans who have been awarded this Prize posthumously have been Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane. I strongly believe Marable’s award is a well-deserved recognition!
I read Marable’s monograph a year ago, with great interest! For me, it is a major scholarly piece of work. Despite a number of errors in the book, it is well-written and free of academic jargon. Marable illustrates for the reader a comprehensible biography of Malcolm’s life that is situated in the social, cultural, and historical context in which Malcolm lived and died. Marable presents Malcolm as the human being he was—that being a complex figure filled with flaws, foibles and frailties. Marable reveals to the reader a man—Malcolm X, who was extremely passionate to the cause of racial, civil and human rights justice—a man who gave his life to the cause of justice. Without a doubt, “A Life of Reinvention” makes a significant contribution to the field of African-American leadership, black liberation struggles, African-American biography and African-American Muslim history, and U.S. history and biography.
One of the important factors that stand out to me with regards to measuring the validity of a major research project is the type of research method that the researcher employs to conduct his or her qualitative research. I argue that Marable utilized appropriate methodological tools to collect and analyze his data. For example, Marable used a wide-variety of archival collections around the nation, which allowed him to gather significant primary sources. I also appreciate the fact that Marable tapped into key government documents as well as utilized oral history sources as part of his data collection. I wished his oral history sources were more extensive.
In addition, Marable use a variety of secondary sources, which are also very crucial to any research project, particularly for a biographical piece on a major U.S. figure, such as Malcolm X. Overall, I argue that the primary and secondary sources that Marable utilized, appropriately allowed him to “describe, interpret, and make judgment” about the data he collected. I felt he did a pretty decent job triangulating the data sources he gathered. One of my criticism about the book is I felt at times Marable made judgments or interpretative critiques or analysis that I believe he did not have enough data to support his interpretation or arguments (I’m NOT referring to the controversial issues, but other issues). Also, at times I felt his analysis were more of a polemic. These are my minor issues I found problematic with the book. Taken as a whole, Manning Marable has written a very good scholarly biography on Malcolm X!
Karen A. Johnson is an Associate Professor of Education & Ethnic Studies at the University of Utah. Her research interests is late 19th & early 20th century African American educators. She is the author of Uplifting the Women and the Race: The Educational Philosophies and Social Activism of Anna Julia Cooper and Nannie Helen Burroughs (2000 NY: Garland)