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Alex Haley

From Academic Kids

Alex Haley
Alex Haley

Alexander Palmer Haley (August 11, 1921 - February 10, 1992) was an African American writer (though he also proud of his White and Cherokee Heritage) who was the Chief Journalist for the United States Coast Guard before retiring to become a senior editor for Reader's Digest. He wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X in 1965 and is probably best known for his book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, a fictionalized account of his family's history, starting with the story of Kunta Kinte, kidnapped in Gambia in 1767 to be sold as a slave in the United States. Roots won the Pulitzer Prize and went on to become a popular television miniseries. Alex Haley is noted for having done several interviews for Playboy Magazine in the US.

In the late 1980s, Haley began working on a second historical novel based on another branch of his family, traced through his grandmother Queen - the daughter of a black slave woman and her white master. Haley died before he could complete the story; at his request, it was finished by David Stevens and was published as Alex Haley's Queen. It was subsequently made into a movie in 1993.

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Alex_haley_US_coast_guard.png
Alex Haley served in the US Coast Guard for 20 years.

Born in Ithaca, New York, Haley grew up in the Southern U.S. and served in the Coast Guard from 1939 to 1959, starting as a mess attendant, 3rd class; during this time he started writing short stories and articles. He researched Roots for 12 years; the Roots TV series adaptation aired in 1977. The same year, Haley won a Pulitzer Prize for the book and the Spingarn Medal as well.

Haley's fame was marred by plagiarism charges, and after a trial, he was permitted to settle out-of-court for $650,000, having admitted that he copied large passages of Roots from The African by Harold Courlander. In 1988 Margaret Walker also sued him, claiming Roots violated the copyright for her novel Jubilee. The case was dismissed by the court.

Haley's work is controversial for other reasons. He has been accused of fictionalising true stories in both his book Roots and The Autobiography Of Malcolm X. X's family and members of The Nation of Islam accused Haley of changing selected parts of his story.

The book and film were both successful, reaching a record-breaking 130 million viewers when it was serialized on television. Roots emphasized that African Americans also have a long history and that not all of that history is lost, as many believed. Its popularity sparked an increased public interest in genealogy, as well.

In 1999, the U.S. Coast Guard honored Haley by naming the cutter Alex Haley after him.

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