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Marlon James

A Brief History of Seven Killings

Riverhead Books

2015 Fiction

A Brief History of Seven Killings
Marlon James was born in 1970 in Kingston, Jamaica, the son of a police detective and her lawyer husband. James credits his mother’s perceptiveness in the volatile decade after his birth for informing A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel that hinges on an assassination attempt on Bob Marley in December 1976.

James graduated from the University of West Indies in 1991 with a degree in literature, and then earned a master’s in creative writing from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania.  He has taught creative writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota since 2007.

James’ second novel, The Book of Night Women, concerns a slave rebellion on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the dawn of the 19th century. It won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2010 and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

A Brief History of Seven Killings is an epic chorus-in-the-round, with some 30 narrators, each in various patois, telling their story as it intersects with the Singer, as James calls the reggae legend over these 700 pages. This tour-de-force novel begins with a ghost, Arthur Jennings, describing his own political murder, and moves through chapter-length narratives from the Singer, police, informers, gangsters, journalists, politicians, CIA agents, drug enforcers and informants, dons and a woman, Nina Burgess, whose single night with the Singer derails her. With each distinct voice, James creates another angle on violence, drugs, corruption, tenderness and cruelty. “I hate politics,” Burgess says. “And I hate that I have to know.”

Readers of James’ fiction find they need to know.

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Blog Posts about Marlon James

Anisfield-Wolf Winning Authors Nab Los Angeles Times Book Prizes

Four Anisfield-Wolf Book Award-winning authors — including two from our 2020 class — took home hardware from this year's Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The annual springtime awards ceremony was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, so winners took to their cameras to deliver acceptance speeches, now posted on YouTube.   Namwali Serpell won the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, for her sprawling Zambian novel, "The Old Drift." Hunkered down in her home, Serpell spoke on the need to continue to create. "These are dark times,... Read More →

Put These 2019 Titles On Your 2020 Book List

In the onslaught of titles published each year, friends of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards can deploy a powerful technique to sift the wheat from the chaff: Find the new work from those writers already in the canon. Here are some gems sitting atop the 2019 pile: “Black Leopard Red Wolf” by Marlon James The Jamaican American novelist most celebrated for “A Brief History of Seven Killings” goes genre. Actor Michael B. Jordan bought the film rights to this epic fueled by African mythology even before it published in February. The story... Read More →

[VIDEO] Marlon James: We All Have A Stake In Ending Racism

Marlon James begins his 2-minute video on racism with the following question: "Are you 'non' or are you 'anti'?" Published by the Guardian and viewed more than 10 million times, the video asks viewers to grapple with their own sense of personal responsibility when it comes to dismantling white supremacy. James broke down his thoughts on non-racism vs. anti-racism when he spoke at the Cleveland City Club September 12. Here is a handy video recap of his point to share with friends: Read More →

[In Their Words] Examining The Runaway Success Of A Brief History Of Seven Killings

by Dr. Anand Bhat In 2007, when I asked my driver in Caracas if evangelical Christianity had been making its way into the oil-rich jungles of Venezuela, he nodded, smiled, and said, “Yes, they say officially they are here for the Church of Pentecost, but I think they are here for the Church of the CIA.”  In every developing nation, that nod and that smile and that second story represent the beginning of almost every great storytelling session I have had about recent history and current events. Listen to me now.  Me warn him… Long... Read More →

WATCH: Marlon James On Winning The 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Prize: "My Whole Life Has Been Shaped By Anisfield-Wolf"

It was a brief passage in "Sula," Toni Morrison's 1973 novel, that changed Marlon James' entire life: in it, Sula refutes the idea that her life choices only have value if affirmed by others. James realized: "I don't owe anything to anyone. I didn't have anything to prove. I could be the writer; I could be the artist. I could be the person that I want." James' indebtedness to Morrison extends further into the Anisfield-Wolf canon—Edwidge Danticat, Arnold Rampersad, Wole Soyinka are among the winners he referenced as he accepted his prize for... Read More →

Meet Our 2015 Winners In And Around Cleveland This September

Anisfield-Wolf award winners are—almost by definition—civic minded. They continue a generous tradition of adding extra public conversations each September in Cleveland. For those readers whose schedules don’t allow them to attend the awards ceremony or who want more than one chance to hear these gifted writers, here are the details: Poet Marilyn Chin, a professor at San Diego State University, will read and discuss her work in Hard Love Province.  She will appear alongside John Carroll University’s Phil Metres, whose recent book,... Read More →

Meet Our 2015 Winners

The Cleveland Foundation today announced the winners of its 80th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. The 2015 recipients of the only national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and examines diversity are: • Jericho Brown, The New Testament, Poetry • Marilyn Chin, Hard Love Province, Poetry• David Brion Davis, Lifetime Achievement• Richard S. Dunn, A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia, Nonfiction• Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings, Fiction “The new Anisfield-Wolf... Read More →
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