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.
LOVE OF WRITING
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.”