On Tuesday, Oct. 13, students, professors and faculty of the English department watched with bated breath as the announcement of the winner of the Man Booker Prize was livestreamed from London, England. When Macalester creative writing professor Marlon James’s book, “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” was held up by the announcer as the winner of Britain’s most prestigious literary award, the excitement in the lounge was palpable.
“The Macalester English department is thrilled, ecstatic even, about Marlon James’s being awarded the 2015 Man Booker Prize for his extraordinary novel ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings,’” Daylanne English, chair of the English department, said in an email.
James is the first Jamaican author to win the Man Booker Prize in its 47-year history. His novel is a fictional take on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976. The five other books that were shortlisted for the prize were “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara (US); “A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler (US); “Satin Island” by Tom McCarthy (UK); “The Year of the Runaways” by Sunjeev Sahota (UK); and “The Fishermen” by Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria). 2015 is only the second year in which the prize has been open to writers of any nationality; in previous years nominees were only chosen from the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe.
Along with a trophy, James will also receive £50,000—about $78,000 U.S.—in prize money and a designer-bound edition of his book. Winners of the Man Booker Prize generally see a large increase in book sales after their novel is chosen.
James’s book was unanimously selected by Man Booker Prize for Fiction chair Michael Wood and judges Ellah Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith and Frances Osborne. “It is a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about,” Wood said of the novel, as reported by the Man Booker Prize’s website. “It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times.”
Upon receiving the award, James said that he had been sure he wouldn’t win and hadn’t prepared an acceptance speech. He spoke of the influence of the Man Booker Prize on his own writing, mentioned that he nearly gave up on getting published when his first novel was rejected over 70 times, and dedicated his award to his late father, with whom he shared his love for literature.
“A Brief History” is a nearly 700-page novel comprised of over 75 voices and characters.
The prize’s website stated that the overall effect of the complex story is “a rich, polyphonic study of violence, politics and the musical legacy of Kingston of the 1970s,” and James hoped that his novel would draw more attention to the literary creativity of Jamaica and the Caribbean (The New York Times).
“[It] was wonderful to experience this moment together and, as a community, celebrate Marlon’s richly deserved success,” English said regarding the English department’s reaction to the good news. “We feel both privileged and proud to have him as a colleague, mentor, teacher and friend.”
A reception hosted by President Brian Rosenberg, Provost Karine Moe and English will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 28 from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. in Janet Wallace to celebrate James’s recent success.
More photos from the event can be viewed at the Man Booker Flickr page.