Marlon James has been named as the winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings.
James is the first Jamaican writer to win the prestigious award and only the second Caribbean winner in the 47-year history of the prize, after VS Naipaul in 1971.
James is no stranger to book-lovers in Trinidad and Tobago as A Brief History of Seven Killings won the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Fiction in April and the author has twice headlined the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, T&T’s annual festival of words, stories, and ideas. The OCM Bocas Prize is open only to writers of Caribbean citizenship or birth and is sponsored by One Caribbean Media, parent company of Caribbean Communications Network (CCN) and Trinidad Express Newspapers.
A vivid and sprawling narrative told through a multiplicity of voices, A Brief History of Seven Killings gives a fictional account of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Kingston in 1976, and follows the lives of dozens of characters connected to “The Singer”.
“It was a book we didn’t actually have any difficulty deciding on,” remarked literary scholar Michael Wood, chair of the 2015 Man Booker Prize judges. “It was a unanimous decision, a little bit to our surprise.”
James’s novel, his third, has won high praise from book reviewers around the world. The New York Times described A Brief History of Seven Killings as “epic in every sense of that word: sweeping, mythic, over the top, colossal and dizzyingly complex”.
A Trinidadian audience first heard James read from what was then a work in progress at the inaugural NGC Bocas Lit Fest in 2011. “Marlon read an excerpt from what would become the first section of Seven Killings,” recalls Bocas programme director Nicholas Laughlin. “Like everyone else there, I was astonished by the verve and confidence of his prose, the outrageousness of the story. So the novel’s success since it’s publication in 2014 is no surprise.”
“Like readers around the Caribbean, I’m ecstatic to hear Marlon has won the Man Booker Prize,” Laughlin added. “It’s yet more proof—as if we needed it—that contemporary Caribbean writing is in a state of boisterous, brilliant health.”
Yesterday, local authors responded to James’s achievement. Monique Roffey, an award-winning Trinidad-born British writer said Marlon James winning the Man Booker 2015 is not only a massive personal achievement but a great boost for the rich and thriving world of contemporary Caribbean literature.
“We are all cheering him on. His star is in the ascendant, James is a powerful, risk-taking writer and may he continue to make the world aware of Caribbean stories and language,” Roffey said.
Rhoda Bharath said winning the prize validates James as a writer.
“James’s winning of the prize is extremely important for him as an author and for Caribbean literature’s canon. His work is experimental and vital and forces us to engage with what the Caribbean has become. Winning the prize validates him. It lets us know that our stories and voices continue to be powerful and relevant.
“I’m especially pleased with what James has done with language and new themes in his work,” Bharath said.
Marina Salandy-Brown, founder of the OCM Bocas Prize and the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, added: “I can hardly contain my delight that a Bocas writer commands the world stage. Marlon is at the top of the pile of a new generation of fiction writers in our region and his win will bring new attention to that reality. It is a great day for Caribbean letters.”
The Man Booker Prize, which comes with a cash award of £50,000, is one of the highest-profile literary awards in the Anglophone world, and winning books typically see a surge in sales.
In the days leading up to the prize announcement this week, James featured heavily in the British press, as one of the favourites on the shortlist.