African fan­tasy

Mar­lon James’ lat­est novel has peo­ple talk­ing – we find out more about the Ja­maican author


HE WON the Man Booker Prize for his third book, A Brief His­tory of Seven Killings, and was afraid his next one might not be as im­pact­ful. But his wor­ries were need­less be­cause Mar­lon James’ fourth book, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, has been mak­ing waves in­ter­na­tion­ally.

We look at his rise to fame.


Mar­lon was born and raised in Ja­maica, but al­ways felt like he didn’t be­long.

“My teenage years be­fore col­lege, I spent pretty much all of my time in my bed­room,” he told The Guardian.

“I spent so much time there that my neigh­bours thought I did high school in Amer­ica. I’d go to class, then I’d dis­ap­pear. I’d just ba­si­cally come home to eat din­ner, sleep, draw comics.”

He didn’t have a lot of friends. “This made a comic like X-Men re­ally res­onate,” he said. “They’re out­casts, they’re out­siders, they’re dis­liked by a world that they’re still a part of. Even other he­roes didn’t trust the X-Men. And that con­nected with me in a re­ally, re­ally ma­jor way.”

He drew his own comics, then started writ­ing a fan­tasy novel. “I was a very pre­ten­tious teenager and I was try­ing to write some­thing heavy.”

Af­ter high school he went to study at the Univer­sity of the West Indies and fol­lowed that up with a stint in ad­ver­tis­ing.


The gay writer says when he was younger he wanted to al­ter his sex­u­al­ity more than any­thing be­cause of how ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was viewed in the Car­ib­bean.

He even had an ex­or­cism or what was called the “gay cure” at a Pen­te­costal church in Ja­maica.

“I was at church al­most ev­ery day of the week. Back then I thought they were just driv­ing out demons.”

It was only when he moved to the US in 2007 that he was able to ac­cept him­self for who he is and write about it.


It took a lot of knock­ing on doors to get his first novel, John Crow’s Devil, pub­lished. It was re­jected by 78 pub­lish­ers.

“I re­mem­ber some­body said it was the sub­ject mat­ter – that no­body wants to read about the Car­ib­bean, that it was be­cause it was su­per dark, be­cause there are no white peo­ple in it.”

But one pub­lisher said yes to his book and he’s been writ­ing since.

His lat­est work, fan­tasy novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf, was re­leased in Fe­bru­ary and he jok­ingly re­ferred to it as “an African Game of Thrones”. To be a good writer in the genre, Mar­lon feels you have to be will­ing to risk it all.

“You have to risk go­ing too far. I ac­tu­ally think this kind of anti­sep­tic, clipped, edited ver­sion of vi­o­lence I see in lit­er­a­ture sells it short. If you don’t read the scene of the mur­der of a child and find it un­bear­able, then that scene failed.”

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