Marlon James has become the first Jamaican to win the Man Booker fiction prize for “A Brief History of Seven Killings.”
The 668-page book deftly captures the language and life of the Caribbean, and James says he hopes more Caribbean writers will follow in his footsteps.
“Jamaica has a really really rich literary tradition, it is kind of surreal being the first and I hope I’m not the last and I don’t think I will be,” James said.
The openly gay writer has spoken at length about growing up in a homophobic country, a topic he also included in the book.
“It was very important to me that there were gay characters in the book – to reflect the gayness and hypocrisy in Jamaica,” he told The Independent.
Although it’s clear the 44-year-old author holds his country in esteem, he now lives in Minneapolis.
“You might want to walk down the street and hold somebody’s hand one day. When you grow up in a homophobic country, you’re sitting on a timebomb,” he said.
Jamaica still has anti-sodomy laws on the books, dating back to 1864. The country’s “Offenses Against the Person Act” make such actions punishable by imprisonment or 10 years hard labor. In a 2014 report by Human Rights Watch, more than half of LGBT people surveyed had been the victim of a violent crime.
James said his father inspired him to begin writing, although he did give it up for a time after one book was rejected more than 70 times.
The 47-year-old prize has previously gone to writers Salman Rushdie, Hilary Mantel, Margaret Atwood and J.M. Coetzee. It comes with a $76,000 reward.
“A Brief History of Seven Killings” is his third novel.