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Alex Haley, Roots (1976)

Charles Ruas in a 1976 interview with Alex Haley, author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family. They discuss the writer's intentions, as well as his near anthropological approach to the book. In what began as an investigation into Haley's family history, the book quickly evolved into a “saga of people... who share a common denominator.” This epic, the author explains, shifted from being a journey of one, into a saga of all.

In traveling to Africa, Haley reveals how he himself felt as though he was a hybrid, an outcast in a place where he expected to feel akin. He quickly understood that in that context, he was viewed less as an individual and more as a concept. It was at this moment during his research, that he found the theme for his book; one of family and a progression to appreciate common ground, or roots. Ruas and Haley exchange perspectives on what Americans do and don't value in terms of history-- what it means to value freedom and origins and how that is translated in both white and black communities.

Interspersed throughout the recording, Haley reads ffrom the novel. The conversation is mixed with readings and music by Dinizulu and his Africans, Judy Collins, and Rev. Gary Davis.

Reliant upon oral histories from Gambian villagers to journals of missionaries, Haley wields the numerous complex tales into a narrative that follows the story of Kunta Kinte, an 18th African, captured and sold into slavery. The book is a two-century, six generation drama, that unfolds with Kunta's descendants. Published in 1976, Haley received the Pulitzer Prize a year later.

Writer Alex Haley (1921-1992) has been celebrated for his seminal contributions to defining African American identity in a political, literary, and popular culture. His first book was a collaborative effort; The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which involved laborious interviews with the subject and his fellow activists. Haley's critically acclaimed novel, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, was atop numerous best-seller lists and was subsequently turned into a television mini-series a year after it was published. Prior to his career as a writer, Haley was in the United States Coast Guard and was recognized with numerous awards for his service.


Historic Audio from the Archives of Charles Ruas


An unparalleled collection of recovered and restored programs from the seventies produced by Charles Ruas, and featuring Allen Ginsberg, John Giorno, Anaïs Nin, William Boroughs, Buckminster Fuller, Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda, and Jorge Luis Borges, among numerous others. 

Historic Audio


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