Jamaican-born professor wins prestigious Man Booker Prize

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BY ROHAN PRESTON
STAR TRIBUNE/TNS

MINNEAPOLIS — Writer Marlon James of St. Paul, Minn., became the first Jamaican to win the Man Booker prize for fiction — one of the literary world’s most prestigious accolades —on Oct. 13 in London.

Author Marlon James is seen at a reading of “A Brief History of Seven Killings” last year at Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minn. (RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER/MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE/TNS)
Author Marlon James is seen at a reading of “A Brief History of Seven Killings” last year at Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minn.
(RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER/MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE/TNS)

James, 45, who teaches literature at Macalester College in St. Paul, won for his epic 2014 novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” which revolves around the attempted assassination of reggae icon Bob Marley.

“This is so sort of ridiculous,” he said as he accepted his award in a ceremony carried live by the BBC.

“I think I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning and it didn’t happen.”

He bested two Americans on the short list of six authors who were finalists: Anne Tyler for “A Spool of Blue Thread,” a domestic drama set in Baltimore; Hanya Yanagihara for “A Little Life,” about four male friends in Manhattan and the childhood abuse suffered by one of them; British writers Tom McCarthy (“Satin Island”) and Sunjeev Sahota (“The Year of the Runaways”); and 28-year-old Nigerian Chigozie Obioma for his debut novel, “The Fishermen.”

From advertising to renowned author
“So much of my literary sensibility was shaped by winners of the Man Booker Prize,” James said days before the ceremony. “It’s something that was remote to me and I’m just honored to be in the company of these great writers.”

James worked in advertising for many years while he nurtured his ambitions in Jamaica. It was through the Calabash Literary Festival in the capital city of Kingston that he was able to develop his voice. In fact, he came out of the festival’s inaugural workshop with a manuscript for his first novel, “John Crow’s Devil,” published in 2005.

“The Booker says what we knew, and that is Marlon is one of the best writers in the world,” said Colin Channer, the novelist who is a co-founder of Calabash. “This brings the prestige and light to a lot of what has been going on in our little country, which the musicians have known all along.”

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