After becoming the first Jamaican to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize on Tuesday in London, novelist and Macalester College professor Marlon James, a gym regular noted for his imaginative brilliance as well as his tip-top physical shape, was feeling the effects of his blazing new spotlight.
James won the accolade for his epic third novel, “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” He stayed up until the small hours in London, after being presented with the trophy by Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall (photo by Neil Hall, Associated Press).
James posted images of his award and responded to kudos that came flowing from across the globe on social media.
By Wednesday, after more events and interviews with media such as the BBC and National Public Radio, he was losing his voice. Representatives at his New York-based press, Riverhead Books, begged off offering him for more interviews. He needs to rest, they said simply.
The Man Booker has brought literary superstardom to James, who lives in Minneapolis and wrote much of “Seven Killings” in coffee shops in Uptown. As a direct result of the award, his publisher on Wednesday ordered a 75,000 reprint of the paperback edition of “Seven Killings,” just one month after the release of the paperback edition.
“There’s no denying that a significant new spotlight and attention comes with the award,” said Claire Mcginnis, publicity manager at Riverhead.
James is not known for sentiment, but the win has also brought memories of the difficulty that he faced initially as he sought to realize his dreams of being published while living in Jamaica. His first novel, “John Crow’s Devil,” was turned down by more than 70 publishers. James even gave up on it at one point, destroying the manuscript. But his imagination was quickened, in part, by the Calabash Literary Festival, founded by Colin Channer, Justine Henzell and Kwame Dawes in 2001.
The festival, which takes place in Treasure Beach, near Kingston, was conceived with a concomitant workshop. James was part of that inaugural class. It is through that workshop that he would meet Kaylee Jones, a teacher and mentor, and Johnny Temple, publisher of Ashashic Books, the imprint under which “John Crow’s Devil” was published.
“I can understand how other books can be rejected, but I truly cannot understand how this manuscript got passed over, and so many times,” Temple said Wednesday. “As soon as I read it, I knew we wanted it. It was simply astounding. There’s nothing usual about his writing — the words, the perspective, the craft, it’s very stylized and he tackles big issues with a distinctive voice.”
The world is appreciating what Temple knew.
"Way before the Booker, Marlon was our star," said Temple. "He is the person I turn to explain what we do."