It never occurred to me that using an X for middle name might appear to connect me with Nation of Islam, the religious group formerly associated with Malcolm X, or with Malcolm X himself, formerly known as Malcolm Little before his affiliation with Nation of Islam.
When I decided to establish a website, my name was taken—and why not? It is a common name. Novak itself is an extremely widespread patronymic, David practically Biblical in its stature of recognition. David Novak the famous theologian was born two decades before me in Chicago, but he is far from the only eminent personage to have that name.
So for the sake of a website, I added an X. It could well stand for Xavier, I reasoned. When I began to put out editions of my books at Lulu.com, I carried over the X in an effort to establish a “brand,” which seemed like a good idea at the time. My previously published books (under the Non Fit Press imprint) came about when I scarcely knew what the internet was; possibly had I the foresight then I’d never have needed the X.
It would be easy enough to revisit the platform at Lulu.com and scrub the initial. I’m wedded to it in the domain name, but as a thing, it’s an artificial external application, of which I feel no need and would gladly see scrubbed for posterity (if I felt there were to be a posterity). But there’s the rub. The world is coming down, and this transitory phase will not be likely to last. Besides, “easy enough” is easy to say, but it requires time, and the platform is not so flawless. Almost with certitude the minor change would not come off without a hitch.
If there is some affiliation or affinity with Malcolm X to be imputed, should I recoil at the thought? Not at all. Neither Malcolm nor the Nation of Islam owns copyright on the letter X. (Hmm... “Letter X” was a poetry zine here in Chicago around the time of my undergraduate years.)
If I had read the Alex Haley edited Autobiography at the time I might never have chosen the X: the connotations would have been readily apparent. That said, it is an embarrassment that I came to reading his book so late in life—truly an American classic like no other—but having done so belatedly (a few years ago) I feel I have nothing to lose, and certainly if anything something to gain, from such a connection (or would were it legitimate).
The portrait—almost a stereotype but certainly not true to life—that has been promoted among the whites of Malcolm X, while not baseless gives only a partial truth. Malcolm had a capacity for gullibility and wrong-headedness that could seem positively tenacious; but he had more than that—the capacity for thinking things out for himself and realizing he had made an error. When he recognized it—that an error had been made—he changed. Most of us would double down or dig in deeper, if not retrench a little. Malcolm’s protean, chameleon-like quality adapted to new circumstances—and new realizations—without wavering, and without apology.
Who would not like to have his name by affiliation conjure up such an icon of strength?
America would be a much better place today had he not been assassinated. In his nineties today, he would have been a moral force in helping this nation cope with—and try to fix—the Anthropocene. This is not the space for speculation, proselytizing, nor history lesson; but I felt that time has come to clarify that X. Friends have adapted to it—a compeer from one of my first jobs as a teenager has gone so far as to call me, “X!” It is a badge I may be stuck with, and either way, what's important is not the name.
As a comic poet I might well have chosen something like “Flat-footed” (Plautus)—but that's already been taken!