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Alex Haley


Unit 1 The Shadowland of Dreams
HALEY, ALEX Alex Haley, an African American writer, is best known for as the author of the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, from which two television miniseries, Roots and Roots II, were adapted. The novels, loosely based on Haley's own family, presented an interpretation of the journey of African Americans from their homeland to the United States and their subsequent search for freedom and dignity. The novel was published in 1976, when the United States was celebrating its bicentennial. During the last week of January 1977 the first Roots miniseries was aired by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). Its phenomenal success surprised everyone, including Haley and the network executives who had "dumped" the program into one week, fearing the subject matter would not attract an audience. Instead Roots garnered one of the largest audiences for dramatic television in the U.S. history of the medium, averaging a 44.9 rating and a 66 share. The success of Roots went far beyond attracting a large audience, however. The miniseries and Alex Haley, became a cause célèbre. In a cover story, Time magazine reported that restaurant and shop owners saw profits decline when the series was on the air. The report noted that bartenders were able to keep customers only by turning the channel selector away from basketball and hockey and tuning instead to those stations carrying Roots. Parents named their newborn after characters in the series, especially the lead character, Kunta Kinte. The airing of Roots raised issues about the effects of television. There were debates about whether the television series would ease race relations or exacerbate them. A Time magazine article explained that "Many observers feel that the TV series left whites with a more sympathetic view of blacks by giving them a greater appreciation of black history." The same article reported that white junior high school students were harassing African Americans and that black youths assaulted four white youths in Detroit while chanting, "Roots, roots, roots." Haley began his writing career through assignments from Reader's Digest and Playboy magazine, where he conducted interviews. During this time he met Malcolm X, then one of the followers of Elija Mohamad, leader of the Nation of Islam. Later Haley was asked by Malcom X to write his life's story. The result of that collaboration, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, was published in 1965 and sold six million copies. Roots, Haley's next bestseller, is an historical novel that purports to trace the African American ancestry of its author, Alex Haley, back to a tiny village in Gambia, West Africa. Within two years of its publication, more than eight million copies of the book had been printed in twenty-six languages, and Roots had won 271 awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. Published in 1976, the volume also inspired a generation of ancestor-seeking Americans and led to one of the most ambitious and most-watched television productions ever undertaken. Roots, U.S. serial drama, remains one of television's landmark programs. Based on Alex Haley's best-selling novel about his African ancestors, Roots followed several generations in the lives of a slave family. The saga began with Kunta Kinte, a West African youth captured by slave raiders and shipped to America in the 1700s. Kunta received brutal treatment from his white masters and rebelled continually. An older Kunta married and his descendants carried the story after his death. Daughter Kizzy was raped by her master and bore a son, later named Chicken George. In the final episode, Kunta Kinte's great-grandson Tom joined the Union Army and gained emancipation. Over the course of the saga, viewers saw brutal whippings and many agonizing moments, rapes, the forced separations of families, slave auctions. Through it all, however, Roots depicted its slave characters as well-rounded human beings, not merely as victims or symbols of oppression.


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