Marlon James Makes Jamaica Proud With His Man Booker Prize for Fiction Win

Jamaican novelist Marlon James at the Calabash Literary Festival in 2007. Photo by Georgia Popplewell, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Jamaican novelist Marlon James at the Calabash Literary Festival in 2007. Photo by Georgia Popplewell, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Last year, just after Jamaican author Marlon James‘ new book “A Brief History of Seven Killings” came out, I remember having a conversation with Marina Salandy-Brown, the founder of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, one of the Caribbean region's most lauded literary festivals. She was practically giddy over the brilliance of his writing and made this stunning prediction: “I think he has a real shot at winning The Man Booker Prize.”

On October 13, James was indeed named the winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

The Man Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious literary awards. Quite apart from the £50,000 prize money that goes along with it, Man Booker acknowledges each year the best English-language novel — in the opinion of its judges — that is published in the United Kingdom.

“A Brief History of Seven Killings” uses the assassination attempt on Bob Marley, referred to as “the singer” throughout the novel, as an anchor point from which to explore issues of race and class in Jamaica, as well as the entangled political relationship between the United States and the Caribbean which helped to create an island embroiled in gang warfare and gun violence. The book is intricately crafted, with more than 75 characters, and intense; the strength of the narrative caused the Man Booker judges to come to a unanimous decision in less than two hours.

‘You've made a region and a people proud’

Social media users and literary enthusiasts across the region were buoyant at the news. On Facebook, Charlene Thompson saw the win as a major accomplishment for the region:

Congratulations Marlon James! You've made a region and a people proud! ‪#‎manbooker2015‪#‎jamaica‬ ‪#‎caribbeanrising‪#‎smallbuttallawah

Miss Kitty The Fluffy Diva acknowledged the magnitude of James’ win:

Amazing!!! Congratulations to author Marlon James for being the first Jamaican to win the Man Booker prize!!!

Even James himself, in a public post on his Facebook page, still could not quite grasp what had just happened. Posting a photo of his Man Booker trophy, he commented:

Holy shit.

Several people also acknowledged that as a gay Jamaican man, James’ win was also a triumph for the LGBT movement in Jamaica.

‘Breathtakingly accomplished writer’

Regional literary bloggers were quick to comment on James’ award, but by far, Twitter was where most of the online discussion was happening. Prior to the announcement, fellow author Sharon Millar tweeted that the good wishes of the region were behind him:

Jamaica-based blogger Annie Paul was exuberant upon hearing the news. She captured the spirit of celebration on the island in this tweet:

While James himself seemed surprised that he won, his fans were not:

An example of perseverance

Writers — both published and aspiring Caribbean writers — took heart at James’ accomplishment:

It is also a time for joy. In the words of Twitter user Rahawa Haile:

HBO has already optioned “A Brief History of Seven Killings” with the idea of developing a television series. But you might want to read the book first.

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