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Former Newsday editor Les Payne, daughter win Pulitzer Prize for Malcolm X bio

Les Payne started work on his Malcolm X

Les Payne started work on his Malcolm X bio, "The Dead Are Arising," more than 30 years ago. It was completed by daughter Tamara Payne, his research assistant. Credit: Associated Press/Newsday/Alan Raia

"The Dead Are Arising," the acclaimed work on Malcolm X by veteran Newsday journalist Les Payne that was completed by his daughter, Tamara Payne, following his death in 2018, has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for biography.

The award was announced Friday during a virtual ceremony honoring the best in journalism and the arts last year.

"My dad would be so proud of our work," said Tamara Payne. "Honestly, I had to drop everything and only focus on this, but with the support of my family ... It's a very important work. … The only sad thing is that my father’s not here for all these accolades."

Payne, who championed racial equality and wrote numerous columns dealing with race relations during his 37 years at Newsday, began working on his painstakingly researched biography of the civil rights leader more than 30 years ago and continued right up until the time he died at age 76. His daughter also served as his research assistant on the project.

For the book, Payne endeavored to interview as many people as possible who knew Malcolm X, including relatives, classmates, close friends, Nation of Islam figures, FBI sources and more. One of the book's most revealing episodes concerns a clandestine meeting between Malcolm X and members of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan in 1961 that led to his break from the Nation of Islam.

When the book came out in October, it received nearly unanimous praise. Publishers Weekly called it "an extraordinary and essential portrait of the man behind the icon." Since its release, "The Dead Are Arising" has garnered numerous honors, including the National Book Award for nonfiction, and was named one of the 100 Notable Books of 2020 by the New York Times Book Review.

Payne, who started at Newsday in 1969 as an investigative reporter and was a co-founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, had previously won a Pulitzer Prize in 1974 for "The Heroin Trail," a 33-part series tracking heroin from the poppy fields in Turkey to its victims on Long Island. He also covered the Black Panther Party, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the guerrilla war in Zimbabwe.

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