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My novels are vulgar, explicit and violent - Man Booker Prize winner

Published:Monday | October 26, 2015 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Marlon James

Two weeks after winning one of the world's most prestigious literary prizes, the Man Booker Prize 2015, Jamaica's Marlon James says locally there needs to be a reassessment of how literary works come to be branded as pro-or anti-Jamaica.

In an interview last week with The Gleaner, the 44-year-old United States-based writer said the issue was a "sticking-point" between him and some of his Jamaican readers, some of whom he said believe that his novels do not present Jamaica in a glowing manner.

"Some of my Jamaican readers think I'm a muckraker; that I talk about stuff people wouldn't talk about; that my novels are vulgar. And they are vulgar. They are vulgar, they are explicit, they are violent, they are sexual, they're raucous, [and] they're rude.

"There is this idea, I think, that they paint a bad picture of Jamaica, that they create a terrible impression because I'm writing about violence. And that's not really what happens at all," argues James.

He further noted that the view that only works of art in support of positive things must be celebrated needs to change if members of the literary community are to have a better chance of getting their work appreciated.



According to him, some Jamaicans need to have a "sophisticated idea" of art.

"Are we gonna be serious about how much we invest and support the arts and have a sophisticated idea of that as well? It can't just be the novel that is sort of a hagiography of Jamaica. The novel that's critical of the country is important, too - the novel that asks the tough questions and goes for the tough truths," said James.

Arguing that all kinds of literary work must be acknowledged for what they seek to do, James says Jamaicans must recognise that "everything does not have to be approved to support Brand Jamaica" - a government concept aimed at luring visitors and investors to the island.

James has written three novels: John Crow's Devil - his first which focused on rival preachers in the 1950s; The Book of Night Women, which explored life in slavery; and A Brief History of Seven Killings, which earned him this year's Man Booker Prize.

The winning novel centred on the 1976 attempted assassination of Bob Marley, and explored political corruption and violence at the time.

Carolyn Cooper, noted university professor of literary studies, said it is "true" that much of the book is negative "because of the politics of the time and the violence", but she declared "we have to come to terms with our past".