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Jamaican Marlon James Wins 2015 Man Booker Prize

Marlon James cops the 2015 Man Booker Prize

“Pile them up, a character says repeatedly and Marlon does just that. Pile them up: language, imagery, technique, imagination. All fresh, all exciting. This is a writer to watch out for.” 

This was the endorsement from Chris Abani that graced the jacket of Marlon James’ debut novel John Crow’s Devil (Akashic Books, 2005). Abani’s recognition of great things to come was echoed by Kaylie Jones and Colin Channer, who in different ways dubbed James one of greats to come. Ten years later James has collected the 2015 Man Booker Prize for his third novel A Brief History of Seven Killings (Oneworld Publications) allowing him to join a list of previous winners which includes Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and JM Coetzee.

And though Half-Way-Tree in Kingston was not filled to the hilt with giddy onlookers, this is a historic moment, for the island, and the region. James is the first Jamaican writer and only the second Caribbean writer to have won the prize. The first was Nobel Laureate Sir VS Naipaul for In A Free State in 1971, incidentally, the year after James was born. 

The time between those victories clearly highlight that James is one of the faces of the current generation of Caribbean writers. It has indeed been a good few years for Jamaican writers. In 2014 Kei Miller earned the Forward Prize for poetry for his collection The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion and Claudine Rankine repeated the feat earlier this year with Citizen. The Man Booker win, however, has arguably allowed James to skyrocket to the head of the pack, though presumably this is a pack with many heads, and such metaphors have no real place in literature.

A Brief History of Seven Killings has been described as epic, and not merely for its size, but more for the sweeping imagination which unfolds within it. Based on the 1976 near assassination of Bob Marley, the book contains over 75 voices and characters in its 686 pages.

Michael Wood, Chair of the 2015 judging panel, described the book as the most exciting on the list.

“This book is startling in its range of voices and registers, running from the patois of the street posse to The Book of Revelation. It is a representation of political times and places, from the CIA intervention in Jamaica to the early years of crack gangs in New York and Miami.

“It is a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about. It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times,” Wood said.

Yet, James’ victory is a win that almost never happened and is sure to inspire frustrated writers. After completing his first novel, James was met with great reams of rejection letters. James has revealed that he received approximately 70 rejections, which left him contemplating giving up writing altogether. 

James received his trophy, a designer bound edition of his novel, the £50,000.00 prize and a guaranteed boost in his book sales. The 2015 adjudication panel also included Wakatama Allfrey, John Burnside, Same Leith and Frances Osborne. 

The 2015 Man Booker prize was announced at a black-tie event in London’s Guildhall on Tuesday, October 13, 2015.