Marlon James Wins Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings

Posted on October 15, 2015

Marlon James being interviewed by Seth Meyers

Marlon James won the Man Booker Prize for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. He is the first Jamaican author to have won the prestigious literary award. Mr. James received the award at the ceremony at London's Guildhall.

He said he was totally surprised to have won and as a result did prepare an acceptance speech. Michael Wood, the chair of the Booker judges, said of the novel, "It's a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about." The novel covers a timespan of three decades. The core of the tale is the true story of an assassination attempt against reggae legend Bob Marley, who is only known in the book as "The Singer." The novel blends elements of history, intrigue, and politics in Jamaica.

Mr. James was a guest on Late Night With Seth Meyers to talk about his book and his big win. He talked about how the novel came about. He said he was having a lots of trouble with the story which had so many characters. He was so depressed over it he thought to himself, "it's a failed novella and I have no talent." But a good friend helped him see that it was actually a novel with a strong through line.

The book is long: it's nearly 700 pages. But he told Seth that it was even longer, so he cut an additional 10,000 words after his editor got to it. Seth noted that the font for the book is really small. James then joked that he's he heard a rumor that Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch does the same thing: she shrinks her font and uses thin paper to trick readers into reading a really long book.

He is a professor who teaches writing and Seth wanted to know if he broke any of his rules that he has for his students. He says his students are not allowed to have run on sentences, while he has sentences that run on for pages. In fact, he has a lot of writing rules and even has a banned words list for his students. For example, he never allows them to use the word "waft" because he dislikes it.

Although the core of the novel is the idea of reggae and its role in Jamaican culture, James admits he was actually more into alternative rock in the 1980s. He was raised to use British colonial English and not to use the Jamaican patois of the reggae world. It's an interesting interview: Take a look:

Photo: Lloyd Bishop/NBC