About 70 attendees filled the Women’s Studies Lounge in Anderson Hall to hear Marlon James read from his latest novel on Thursday night.
It was the final installment of the Spring 2016 Poets & Writers Series, sponsored by the Temple University MFA Creative Writing Program. Each year, a select group of poets and fiction writers are invited to read their work to the Temple community, as well as the local Philadelphia arts scene.
James is a 45-year-old, Jamaican-born writer who currently teaches creative writing at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. His first novel “John Crow’s Devil” was rejected 78 times before its publication in 2005, and his award-winning work has been gaining prominence ever since.
At the event, he read four excerpts from his most recent novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” which won the 2015 Man Booker Prize. The novel explores the untold history of Jamaica through 67 characters and several narrators. The general plot focuses on what happened to the men who attempted to assassinate Bob Marley in 1976, and all of the people in that periphery, James said.
“Some of the characters fired the actual shots, and others just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. “The one thing they have in common is that the consequences of this one event that barely lasted five minutes spill through into almost three decades.”
The excerpts he read featured a diverse set of characters, like an undocumented immigrant, a Rolling Stone journalist and a hitman. These particular sections were roughly divided between Americans in Jamaica and Jamaicans in America, he said.
“I’m happy I came, and hearing his voice was like an appetizer to the book,” said Shawn Reasin, a junior media studies and production major. “I read the first 150 pages, and his prose style has a pulse. I’m very interested to read more.”
Traditionally, a different student from Temple’s graduate program in creative writing is invited each time to read from their original work. Second-year MFA student Victoria Yu preceded James and read “Welcome Neighbors,” one of the short stories from the collection she has been working on for her master’s project.
“It’s exciting, but also nerve-wracking because it’s Marlon James,” she said. “It’s amazing that he came, and the fact that he won the Man Booker Prize, too.”
Following the reading, James held a Q&A session with the audience. Attendees asked questions about the writers and books that inspire him the most, his teaching career in Minnesota and how his life has changed since earning the Man Booker Prize.
While there are some writers that inspire him like Toni Morrison, he said he is more inspired by his favorite books, like “Dog Eaters” by Jessica Hagedorn and “Shame” by Salman Rushdie. As for his teaching career, he wants his students to master language because many write as if language masters them instead, and advises them to give every word a pulse, he said.
Since winning the Man Booker Prize, more people have been paying attention to James’ Facebook posts, he said. Because of this, topics that people either don’t talk about or don’t want to talk about, like privilege and pandering, are being broadcasted to a larger audience.
He has also noticed an increase in who gets represented in the literary world since winning the award.
“One thing I do notice is that is happening already is the literary establishment paying more attention to Caribbean authors,” he said. “I think people are paying a little bit more attention to Caribbean fiction and nonfiction.”
Brooke Williams can be reached at email@example.com.