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Macalester's Marlon James wins prestigious Man Booker Prize for fiction


Marlon James, a professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, has won the Man Booker Prize for fiction for his novel, "A Brief History of Seven Killings," set in his native Jamaica.

James was awarded the prize – one of the most prestigious honors in literature – Tuesday night at a ceremony in London.

James, 44, is an associate professor of English at Macalester. He joined the faculty in 2007.

He's the first Jamaican author to win the Man Booker Prize. He uses his native country as the backdrop of his novel, which tells the story of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley amid the turbulent 1970s and '80s.

Michael Wood, who chaired the judges' panel, said "A Brief History of Seven Killings" was the unanimous choice of the judges and called it "the most exciting book on the list."

In a news release announcing the award, Wood described the book this way:

"This book is startling in its range of voices and registers, running from the patois of the street posse to The Book of Revelation. It is a representation of political times and places, from the CIA intervention in Jamaica to the early years of crack gangs in New York and Miami.

‘It is a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about. It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times."

Macalester College issued a statement congratulating James on the award.

“This is an extraordinary moment for Marlon and for Macalester as well,” said President Brian Rosenberg. “We are exceptionally proud of him, and I know the entire Macalester community joins me in wishing Marlon a heartfelt congratulations.”

James was chosen over five other finalists. They are:

  • Tom McCarthy (UK), for "Satin Island"
  • Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria), for "The Fishermen"
  • Sunjeev Sahota (UK), for "The Year of the Runaways"
  • Anne Tyler (US), for "A Spool of Blue Thread"
  • Hanya Yanagihara (US), for "A Little Life"

Along with the prize, James receives $77,000 and can expect sales of his novel to skyrocket due to the international recognition he'll now receive.

What is the Man Booker Prize?

The Man Booker Prize is one of the UK’s most celebrated literary awards, having launched in 1969 initially to reward the best novel of the year written in English and published in the United Kingdom, according to its website.

It was then expanded to allow entries written in English from British Commonwealth countries (such as Australia and Canada), before it was expanded again last year to allow English language novels from any country, provided it’s been published in the UK.

The winner is chosen by a panel of judges that includes critics, writers, academics, poets, politicians and actors who have a “passion for quality fiction.”

Previous winners of the prize include Hillary Mantel, Salman Rushdie, Iris Murdoch and William Golding.

More about Marlon James

James also won the Novel and Short Story prize at the 2015 Minnesota Book Awards for “A Brief History of Seven Killings.”

This is his third novel. His first, “John Crow’s Devil,” was released in 2005.

He followed up his debut with “The Book of Night Women” in 2010, which won The Minnesota Book Award, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was a finalist for the 2010 National Books Circle Award in fiction, according to his Macalester College bio.

Read an essay he wrote for the New York Times Magazine.

Watch an interview he did on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Listen to an interview he did with MPR News.

Watch a video clip of James reading an excerpt from "A Brief History of Seven Killings."

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