Jan. 18, 2018

Man Booker Prize-winning author Marlon James coming to UCalgary

Named 2017-18 Distinguished Visiting Writer, acclaimed Jamaican novelist will appear at Mac Hall on Feb. 28

Jamaican novelist Marlon James, who won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his third book, A Brief History of Seven Killings, is coming to the University of Calgary on Feb. 28 for a reading and lecture at MacEwan Hall. James will be appearing as the university’s 2017-18 Distinguished Visiting Writer, the event an annual highlight of the long-running Calgary Distinguished Writers Program (CDWP).

Past Distinguished Visiting Writers have included Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon, Zadie Smith, Art Spiegelman, Oliver Sacks and Michael Ondaatje, among other literary stars.

Described by The Wall Street Journal as a “sprawling epic,” A Brief History of Seven Killings uses the 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley as a springboard into a multi-narrative tale of intrigue, touching on Jamaican power politics, race and class and the volatile relationship between the United States and the Caribbean. In addition to winning the U.K.’s most prestigious literary award, with the Man Booker Prize, the novel also won the American Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. James is currently in the process of adapting the novel into an HBO television series.

James was born in Jamaica in 1970 and grew up in Portmore, an affluent suburb of Kingston. His mother and father were a detective and a lawyer, respectively, and James attended an elite boys’ school. He graduated from the University of the West Indies in 1991 with a degree in language and literature, and from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania in 2006 with a master’s in creative writing. He lives in Minneapolis today and teaches English and creative writing at Macalester College.

His first novel, John Crow’s Devil — rejected 70 times before James found a publisher — tells the story of a Biblical struggle in a remote Jamaican village in the 1950s. It announced James’ arrival on the literary scene in a major way, becoming a finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, as well as a New York Times Editor’s Choice.

His second novel, The Book of Night Women, is about a slave women’s revolt on a Jamaican plantation in the early 19th century.

In early 2016 James’s viral video, Are you racist? ‘No’ isn’t a good enough answer, received millions of hits.

James is currently working on the Dark Star Trilogy, a fantasy series based on African legends.

For his readings James addresses the writing process as well as topics pertaining to the history of the Caribbean, race, gender and youth subcultures expressed in literature and music, such as hip-hop and reggae.


Marlon James' acclaimed first novel, John Crow’s Devil, was rejected 70 times before he found a publisher. Photo by Jeffrey Skemp

Marlon James' acclaimed first novel was rejected 70 times before he found a publisher.

Jeffrey Skemp