Editorial: Marlon James and the telling of truths
Rex Nettleford, the late cultural critic, used to assert - to paraphrase him crudely, - that the creative imagination often conjured greater truths than literal facts.
That is why, even as we insist on being an accurate purveyor of facts presented in their correct context, we appreciate our coexistence with those whose tool of trade is the exercise of their creative imagination. Together, hopefully, we help our society to a better understanding of itself and to being a better place. And so it is, too, that we celebrate with Marlon James, who this week won Britain's prestigious prize, Man Booker Prize for literature, becoming, officially, the first Jamaican writer to do so.
Others, however, depending on your definition of Jamaican, have come close and have won other major global prizes for literature. Given our context of a Greater Jamaica, we embrace the idea of a nation whose boundary is defined by culture and identity, so as to include people in the Diaspora.
In that sense, we claim Andrea Levy, first post Wind Rush, UK-born writer of Jamaican parents, who was short-listed for the Booker in 2010 for her novel, Long Song, for which she won the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction in 2011. Before that, in 2004, Ms Levy won the Orange Prize for female writers in 2004, for the novel Small Island, which, in the same year, was also the Whitbread Book of the Year. The same novel also won her the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2005, and award that has also been received by Jamaican poet, Lorna Goodison.
Though her themes are not, like Mr James' and Ms Levy's, so distinctly Jamaican/Caribbean, we also embrace Zadie Smith (of Jamaican mother and English father), who was shortlisted for the Booker in 2005 for On Beauty, for which she won the Orange Prize and Somerset Maugham award in 2006. In 2000 she won the Whitbread First Novel Award for White Teeth, which the following year won the Commonwealth Writers Prizes and was shortlisted for the Whitbread.
We note these facts not to detract from Marlon James' accomplishment, but to acknowledge the universality of the Jamaican voice in its variegated forms. Indeed, though he was shaped by Jamaica, in Jamaica, Mr James now lives in the United States, an experience that will adjust the lenses through which he observes the world and, perhaps, the nuance of some future novel.
Hopefully, too, Mr James' prize might be an inspiration and catalysts for those writers, and other artists, who reside on this part of Jamaica and have stories to tell and whose breakout he may have intuited.
He said: "To be first just means I'm the first one to get some attention, and I think there's a lot more coming. I hope it brings more attention to what's coming out of Jamaica and the Caribbean because I think there are some brand new voices coming out. We're exploring contemporary society, what's beyond politics, what's beyond colonialism, looking at queer issues, comics, humour. And I hope there is a greater lens turned towards that."
And those lens, hopefully, will see with greater clarity, observing liberating truths.