Born: 11 August 1921
Died: 10 February 1992 (heart attack)
Birthplace: Ithaca, New York
Best known as: The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the book Roots
Alex Haley wrote Roots, one of the most celebrated novels of the 1970s. Haley spent 20 years in the Coast Guard (1939-59) then began a second career as a writer, working for magazines ranging from Reader's Digest to Playboy. Haley was a ghostwriter on his first major book: The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965 and became a hit. Haley spent years tracing his own family history and decided it went back to a single African man, Kunta Kinte, who was captured in Gambia and taken to America as a slave around 1767. That research led to Haley's epic book Roots, published in 1976 to wide acclaim. The next year the television miniseries Roots ran for a week on network TV and became a national phenomenon. Roots won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Although questions were raised about the accuracy of the history Haley described in Roots, he is still credited with inspiring interest in genealogy among African-Americans.
Actors LeVar Burton and John Amos played Kunta Kinte in the miniseries Roots; others in the cast included Maya Angelou, Ed Asner and even O.J. Simpson… Alex Haley was played by James Earl Jones in a sequel miniseries, Roots: The Next Generations… Alex Haley was sued for plagiarism by Harold Courlander, author of the 1968 book The Africans; Haley agreed that he had unintentionally used three paragraphs from Courlander’s book in Roots and settled with the author out of court.
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