Best-selling author Marlon James provides a vivid glimpse into the world he fled.
Having traveled the world with the acclaim of his Man Booker Prize winning book A Brief History of Seven Killings, best-selling author Marlon James makes his maiden voyage to Nantucket this June for the fifth annual Nantucket Book Festival. “Writing is such a solitary thing,” James says. “The idea of community, communities of writers, and communities of readers is all so infectious [that] I jump at the chance to be in that space.”
For James, writing offered an escape from the strictures of Jamaican society, the country he fled for his own salvation. “Whether it was a plane or a coffin, I knew I had to get out of Jamaica,” he wrote in the New York Times. James had reached “the end of himself” in his homeland. Accepting a one-year contract for a teaching position at Macalester College in Minnesota, James quickly drew global recognition as a literary powerhouse by tackling themes of race, sexuality, and corruption in his work.
A Brief History of Seven Killings is a tour de force. James’s lyrical writing hops, skips, dances, and dives beneath the surface of Jamaican culture and crime, weaving themes of race relations and political and governmental corruption. Focusing on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, James catapults readers into 1970s Jamaica, rife with gang wars, culture clashes, and drugs — all told through disparate, complex characters.
“Probably in the simplest terms, I found these characters and fell in love with them, and let them tell the story,” James says. “Just trusting the novel to go where it wanted to go.” Accordingly, he did not build an overarching structure of A Brief History of Seven Killings. Instead, he got out of the way of his characters and allowed them take shape in his imagination. “I got to sit back and watch these characters unfold, grow, change, mess up, do good things, do terrible things, and just sort of be themselves, whatever that was.” Trying to pick his process apart leaves James shrugging. “If I could decode that, I could decode creativity,” he says. “To me, novels are mysteries that authors are trying to solve, just going deeper and deeper in figuring it out.”
As a result, A Brief History of Seven Killings pulses with a life not felt before. A world all its own. Imagination writ large. Cognizant that our island community is one confined by its boundaries of water and weather, Marlon James understands only too well the transformative effect books have for readers. “One of the great things about reading is that the more often you read, the more lives you get to have,” he says. “Which is why I encourage reading not just for learning. The absolutely greatest thing about reading is that every time you read, you have more than one life. You gain lives.”
Marlon James will be speaking at the Atheneum Great Hall for “Counting Characters” on Saturday, June 18th at 12:30 P.M. as well as at the Book Festival’s Book to Film event at the NHA’s Whaling Museum on Sunday, June 19th at 6 P.M.