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News & Features » October 2014 » Akashic author Marlon James featured in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal!

Akashic author Marlon James featured in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal!

marlon james_nytimesOn the heels of a rave review in the New York Times for his new book A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead), Akashic author Marlon James has also received a wonderful feature in the New York Times! James’s debut novel, John Crow’s Devil, was published by Akashic in 2005 and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Read the full feature here, and find an excerpt below:

After studying at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Mr. James spent more than a decade in advertising as a copywriter, graphic designer, and art director. His clients included the dancehall star Sean Paul, for whom he designed several CD covers, and the New York Times’s T Magazine. During much of that time, he said, “I made a big point of not writing seriously and even stopped reading for a while, too.”

But he was drawn back to literature by what he described as the “lack of a sense of possibility” he felt in Jamaica. Publishers and agents in New York showed no interest in a draft of what became John Crow’s Devil, his first novel. But when he took a chapter to a writing workshop in Kingston taught by a visiting American, Kaylie Jones, she was immediately taken by Mr. James’s writing and choice of subject.

“What leaped out at me right away was that he was a phenomenally visual writer with a lyrical, magical voice,” said Ms. Jones, who teaches writing at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. “I was shocked that nobody had picked up this guy.”

James was also recently interviewed by fellow Akashic author C.J. Farley (Game World) for the Wall Street Journal, where he talked about fictionalizing Bob Marley, living in Jamaica, and his influences as a writer. Read the full interview here, and find an excerpt below:

CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY: When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

MARLON JAMES: That’s hard—especially in Jamaica where it’s not like you get up and decide to be a writer. My generation was still part of “You must be a lawyer” or “You must be a doctor,” kind of thing . . . Even after my first book [John Crow’s Devil], I didn’t decide I was a writer. It was when I wrote the second book [The Book of Night Women], I got to the point where I decided I can’t do anything else. You get to the point where you ask if you weren’t a writer, what else would you be? And I just have no answer. There is no anything else.

FARLEY: What were your earliest memories of books around the house?

JAMES: My dad was not a prose guy at all. So there was a lot of poetry, particularly the Romantics. When I went to clear his desk after he died, the two books that were open on his desk were Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads. He was a huge fan of poetry and Shakespeare. That I got from him—the obsession with Shakespeare. My mother was drawn to short stories like O. Henry. She collected Reader’s Digests, so a lot of the novels I grew up thinking I knew, I realized I didn’t know, I only knew the Reader’s Digest version of it. But I grew up reading a huge swath of fiction because of these Reader’s Digest compendiums . . . A lot of what shaped my literary sensibilities were things like comics: Batman, Superman, X-Men. The sort of cheap pulp fiction.

FARLEY: Should readers be surprised that so many top novelists like Junot Díaz, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, and you were profoundly influenced by comics?

JAMES: Comics suggest possibility. That’s our magical realism. The idea that storytelling can still be a world of wonder is something I think we got from comics. Even when I describe a scene, the details I pick first, I realize I’m still doing it comic style even though I’m writing it.

FARLEY: How did you manage to maintain the separation of the voices in your book?

JAMES: I had to keep tabs on all of them. It’s almost as if I became my own CIA. I actually had a literary chart on my wall. People don’t believe me when I tell them—they think I’m an organic plotter and I’m not. I had a chart up on the wall with all the characters and their traits and time of day and where they are at this part of the novel and what they’re doing. It was hard to keep track of them because there are a lot of characters. Some of it was just a process of discovery. There are a lot of discarded pages. The number of discarded pages in this novel is as big as the novel. Because I was figuring out stuff.

Congratulations, Marlon!

Posted: Oct 2, 2014

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