Marlon James after winning the Man Booker Prize for his 2014 novel "A HIstory of Seven Killings." (Alastair Grant/AP Photo)
Marlon James, the Man Booker Prize-winning author and Macalester College writer-in-residence, was all wit and charm Wednesday evening as he chatted with Minnesota Public Radio host Kerri Miller in front of a live audience at St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theatre.
The breezy Jamaican genius has reasons to smile, if not be downright giddy. News came yesterday that “Black Leopard, Red Wolf,” the opening volume of James' Dark Star trilogy, debuted at number 4 on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list.
As he waited to go onstage, he joked that his mother would not be impressed. After his recent appearance on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," he imagined the sort of questions she might ask: "'Why didn't you cut your hair?' 'Why did you wear that suit?'" he said, smiling. "You know Jamaican mothers."
The bestseller news arrives just days after actor Michael B. Jordan, who plays Killmonger in “Black Panther,” acquired the film rights to "Black Leopard, Red Wolf." James told Miller he has no interest in doing the screenplay adaptation; there are people who are better at the economical language of film. James, who has been a fan of the actor since his 2013 breakout performance in "Fruitvale Station," said he spent time getting to know Jordan before the deal, and was impressed that he was so thoughtful and well-read.
James told Miller other things: That he became a devout Christian in his late 20s because he thought it would help him not be gay. That he used to get depressed after he'd finished writing a novel, a depression that only lifted when he got back to writing another one. And that he remains a voracious reader with catholic tastes, taking in everything from "Jane Eyre" to the pulp novels of Jackie Collins and comics such as "Hellboy."
An epic adventure quest set in an Africa of shape-shifting, magical characters, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” recounts the search for a dead boy by a character named Tracker. James read an excerpt from the book Wednesday night that deals with homophobia. It also featured a smart, powerful buffalo who, he joked, may become the subject of a new book.
Minnesota Public Radio will air an edited version of the interview at 9 a.m. Feb. 26.