Malcolm X “Learning to Read”

  1. Read “Learning to Read” by Malcolm X. Write a response to the reading, using at least 2 of the following questions as a guide. It should be approximately 250 words.  Be prepared to share in class.
  2. What motivated Malcolm X to learn to read?
  3. Why do you think Malcolm X wrote this article? Who do you think is his intended audience?
  4. What did you think of the piece?
  5. How is Malcolm X’s literacy narrative similar to or different than those of Tan and Vargas?


  1. Claudia

    Malcolm X had struggled with expressing himself through words in his letters, he was then also influenced by Bimbi, who was articulate and knowledgable in any type of conversation, which motivated Malcolm to learn how to read, write, and broaden his vocabulary. Malcolm explains how his life would have turned out differently if he had just gone to college instead of the prison where he dedicated hours to reading books and writing. Through his experiences, he tells readers how much reading has positively influenced him and could be intended towards those who wish to gain more knowledge or learn how to better express themselves. This article leaves you feeling inspired by reading how much Malcolm grew as a person by educating himself, and learning how he was able to use his knowledge to impact thousands of people. His narrative is similar to Tan’s and Vargas’s because they all share how specific events impacted them and changed their way of thinking.

    • Rebekah Coleman

      Dear Claudia, Thank you for this thoughtful response! I love how you note how Malcolm X believes his experience/ education would have been very different had he just gone to college instead of prison. I am also pleased that you, too, found the article inspiring and you make a wonderful comparison to the Tan and Vargas pieces that I would love you to further discuss in class today. Thanks!

  2. Jacob Saile

    Malcolm X wanted to express his experience learning how to read and write throughout the passage . He also wants to express how important it is to him that everyone learns how to read and write. His experience in learning how to read and write was not easy to do especially in the 1960’s for a black individual. He was motivated by another prison inmate during him time in jail because of how well he was able to speak and have conversations. He also puts a stress on how history as we know it may not be accurate due to white men interfering with the truth. He shows his concerns on how not only black but other cultures have been simply ignored in history . Malcolm x wants future generations white or black to know the truth. He supports separating black leaders from white in order for the black community to strive. The main idea of malcolm x in this passage is his struggle of developing as a reader and a writer and how it could grow without the interference of the white community.

    • Rebekah Coleman

      Dear Jacob, Thank you for your very thoughtful response. I really love how you both focus on how learning to read and write opened him up to reading about global imperialism and gave him a deeper understanding of the world he lived in at that moment. I would love for you to bring all of these ideas that you discuss in this response up during our discussion today. Thanks!

  3. Catherine

    The time in which Malcom x decided to learn how to read and write was when he spent time in prison for burglary. During that time, he met someone that went by them name Bimbi, this person’s extent knowledge and ability to take hold and lead a conversation is what motivated Malcom to learn these skills because he envied Bimbi. Malcom would later on learn the meanings from a dictionary and that is how he passed his time in prison, by self-educating himself in order to be able to convey his thoughts and philosophy into writing.
    Malcom X’s literacy narrative is similar to those of Tan and Vargas by their articles talking about their experiences with obstacles in their lives to send a message to the audience they wrote it for. Both Tan’s and Vargas articles gave the impression that their articles were written for children of immigrants who went through the same struggle. Even though I feel like it is not the same case for Malcom, I feel that his article was intended for minorities in general who didn’t have the privilege to learn how to read and write and go to college, like him. As the reader , I feel that the one thing these articles have in common are that they were written to show that other people go through these experiences and give the message that even though they had bumps in the road others didn’t, they still went past it and succeeded in what they wanted to do, past the stereotypes.

    • Rebekah Coleman

      Dear Catherine, Thank you for your thoughtful response. I really love how you focus on Malcolm X’s intended audience and purpose of the article. I would really like it if you could discuss this in class today! Thanks!

  4. Shaniyah

    I feel this piece should have way more credit than it does. To start in America jail is associated with the black man going only to serve time for a crime. You never hear the stories about the men who use jail as a segway to a better life, a new beginning. To me Malcom had an obstacle thrown at him and he found some light in it. Education is always a good thing no matter where you achieve it, no matter how and no matter how long it takes. Malcolm became fed up when he noticed he wasn’t able to properly communicate his thoughts and even write in a street line. It’s very hard to write letters with feelings incorporated in them, when you are not educated and able to write a proper English sentence. Malcom made the best of his circumstances and used the resources available to him in prison, the best for him being a dictionary. He studied the dictionary word for word, letter by letter copying everything. Eventually he learned more words than a common man in jail which brought him praise .He also was then able to read many high level books. The education he brought to himself allowed him to feel more aware of the problems going on in the world. He began to learn about the inequality many races dealt with at the hands of a white man. This made him feel more alive and woke, a feeling he never was able to experience being uneducated I imagine. He felt education gave him his power and in my opinion I think education is always power. Knowledge is power. To be able to educate someone else on a topic you know a lot about is power. This piece was amazing and I am glad someone got more out of jail than what the system creates it for. The intended audience is multiple groups of people in my eyes. I think many young black men could benefit from reading this, as well as many older black men who maybe are even in prison, and feel they no longer have a purpose or have any power. This reading might give them some light or a start to a route that will then open a new “light’ for themselves.

  5. Joscar

    Malcolm x was motivated to learn how to read because he wasn’t happy with his educational skills. As an ex street guy “often in years in the streets I had slept less than that” all he knew was street but his reading and writing abilities needed some help so he decided to read and write the dictionary to learn words in prison. Malcolm spent nights reading books and copying the dictionary with his sloppy writing. He never stopped until it became a hobby to him, it got to a level of interest so high that he only slept 3-4 hours a day because he spent his night reading and when the guard came he acted like he was sleeping “ I jumped into bed and feigned sleep”. Is crazy how he was risking being caught and punish just because of a book.

    I think Malcolm X wrote this article to tell his story of how he went from the streets to prison to becoming a human rights activist. He wants people to know that if he achieved all he did from not knowing how to read and write to defend people’s rights they can also achieve their goals. His intended audience are the people without any education, people without a voice and people that support his doing. As for the people with no education, they have no excuse as to why they can’t progress in life because this man was in prison without any knowledge of words and he managed to learn by reading and write day and night until he was satisfied with his accomplishments.

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