Alex Haley

Alex Haley

African-American writer, famous for his book 'Roots: The Saga of an American Family'
Date of Birth: 11.08.1921
Country: USA

Alex Haley: A Biography

Alexander Murray Palmer Haley, an African American writer, gained fame with his book 'Roots: The Saga of an American Family,' in which he traced the history of his own family over two hundred years. Additionally, he co-authored 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X,' the renowned civil rights activist who was assassinated in 1965. Haley was born on August 11, 1921, in Ithaca, New York. He was the eldest child in his family and lived in Henning, Tennessee, until the age of five, when he returned to Ithaca. Haley's father, Simon Haley, was an agronomy professor at Cornell University and a World War I veteran. Alex always spoke with great pride about his father and the obstacles he had to overcome due to racism.

Alex Haley

At the age of fifteen, Alex Haley enrolled as a student at Alcorn State University, the first black university in the United States. However, after two years, he returned to his parents and informed them that he had dropped out of school. His father, believing that his son needed discipline, convinced him to join the military. In May 1939, Haley joined the United States Coast Guard, where he learned to write stories during his service in the Pacific Ocean. He often wrote love letters for fellow sailors and began creating stories out of boredom, as the enemy during their missions was not the Japanese but rather the exhausting monotony.

Alex Haley

After World War II, Haley requested a transfer to the journalism department, and by 1949, he had become a First Class Petty Officer as a journalist. Haley left the Coast Guard in 1959 as a Chief Petty Officer with numerous medals. He became the first Chief Journalist of the Coast Guard, an honorary title created specifically for Haley to recognize his literary achievements. After his discharge, Haley began his writing career and eventually became the senior editor for the monthly magazine 'Reader's Digest.' His first interview appeared in 'Playboy' magazine in 1962, where Haley interviewed the legendary jazz musician Miles Davis, discussing issues of racism. Since then, conducting interviews became a distinctive feature of the magazine, and Haley conducted several notable interviews throughout the 1960s.

In 1976, Haley published his novel 'Roots,' based on one branch of his family. The story begins with the history of Kunta Kinte, who was kidnapped in Gambia in 1767 and brought to the United States as a slave. Haley spent approximately ten years researching and claimed to have even found the village in Gambia from which his distant ancestor originated. He had heard the legendary story of his ancestor's abduction. However, some critics argue that the novel is more a work of fiction than a documentary. 'Roots' was translated into 37 languages and earned Haley the Pulitzer Prize in 1977. Additionally, a multi-part television series based on the book was watched by 130 million viewers.

In 1978, writer Harold Courlander accused Haley of plagiarism. Although Alex denied his guilt, the case was settled by paying Courlander $600,000. In the late 1970s, Haley began working on his second historical novel, based on the story of his grandmother, Queen, the daughter of a black slave woman and her white master. He died on February 10, 1992, in Seattle, Washington, from a heart attack before completing the novel. According to his wishes, the novel was finished by David Stevens and was published as 'Alex Haley's Queen.' In 1993, the book was adapted into a film, starring Halle Berry in the lead role.

In his final years, Haley purchased a small farm in Norris, Tennessee, to make it his home. After his death, the farm was transferred to the American charitable organization Children's Defense Fund, which renamed the farm in honor of its former owner. In 1999, the United States Coast Guard paid tribute to Haley by naming a patrol boat after him. Ten years after his death, Haley was awarded the Korean War Service Medal by the South Korean government. The United States military did not award this medal, created in 1951, until 1999. The country of Ghana issued a postage stamp featuring Alex Haley's portrait as part of the 'Great Writers of the 20th Century' series.

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