The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Professor, alum nominated for award

By Max Loos

It was a big moment for Macalester creative writing professor Marlon James when he found out that he, along with Mac alumna Mary Karr ’76, had been announced as finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award.”I was literally speechless,” James said. “And I’m not using literally in a weird way, I actually was speechless, to the point where I knew what I wanted to say to people but it kept coming out as jibberish.”

James, who teaches both literature and creative writing in the English department, was nominated in the fiction category for his novel, “The Book of Night Women,” which tells the story of a slave in the midst of a revolt in colonial Jamaica.

The NBCC award, given in several different categories every year, is the third-most prestigious award an author can receive from an American institution, behind the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

“I was going to say it’s the Golden Globes to the Pulitzer’s Oscars, but that’s kinda cheap,” James said. “It’s more like the Director’s Guild to the Pulitzer’s Oscars.”

The NBCC award is also the most prestigious American award open to authors who are not American citizens; James is Jamaican.

“It’s a pretty humbling recognition,” James said. “It’s also kinda friggin awesome still. I hate when people go like, oh I’m so humble, blah blah blah. Of course you’re excited about it.”

James is also relishing the experience of being on the same list as Mary Karr ’76, who is nominated in the autobiography category for her book, “Lit.”

Karr studied psychology at Macalester, and she said her time at Mac, which her book touches upon, was an important part of her development as a writer.

“The first intellectual work I ever did was there,” she said in an interview on the Macalester web site. She also holds her psychology professor, Walt Mink, as a role model to live up to in her own teaching.

James considers Karr to be one of the most important memoir authors around, and assigns another one of Mary Karr’s memoirs, “The Liar’s Club,” in his creative nonfiction class.

“It’s also kinda weird,” he said. “What do I say when I meet her? Hey, I teach you?”

Former English department chair Stephen Burt was also nominated in the criticism category for his book, “Close Calls With Nonsense: Reading New Poetry.” Burt left Macalester in 2007 to teach at Harvard.

In addition to James, Karr, and Burt, Macalester alumni Alex Lemon ’00 and Erica Rivera ’01 have been garnering positive attention for their publications.

Tim O’Brien ’68 remains the most popular and celebrated author to graduate from Mac.

James believes the success of these authors says something about Macalester’s students and faculty.

“It says we can produce writers,” he said.

The winners of the NBCC awards will be announced on March 11 at a formal awards ceremony at the New School in New York.

James was also nominated for an NAACP award for an outstanding work of fiction. That ceremony will be televised, but he does not believe that the announcement of the award in his category will make it onto the broadcast.

“You have to choose between two writers and five more minutes of Beyoncé, what are they gonna pick?” he said.

View Comments (7)
More to Discover

Comments (7)

All The Mac Weekly Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • B

    Benjamin RossSep 11, 2019 at 11:47 am

    Regards for this post, I am a big big fan of this internet site would like to keep updated.

  • A

    Amanda HendersonSep 9, 2019 at 6:17 am

    In fact itís referred to as SEO that when i search for this article I found this site at the top of all sites in search engine.