LargeUp Interview: Marlon James on “A Brief History of Seven Killings”


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LU: With both your parents being police, I’m sure they were exposed to all of the stuff that was going on in the 70s and early 80s. Did you hear a lot of these stories from your parents?

MJ: You overhear it and you don’t really understand it. I remember the poisoned counter flour that killed many people. I remember when Bob Marley was shot. My parents, and lot of middle-class parents, really did a good job of keeping our lives stable. This is something a lot of non-Jamaican journalists just can’t seem to understand. Even yesterday, I was at a book conference with an older woman, an aging hippie who use to live in Negril until… and you know where this story is going. “Oh you know it’s such a beautiful country, so beautiful but so dark and so violent,” and after a while I just couldn’t take it. [She asked] “You must have ran away too, right?” I was like “Nooo, I grew up in a Jamaican middle class home, our lives were boring, my mother worked not two, but one job, my father had one job, we had two cars, we lived in the suburbs and we’d come home and watch Sesame Street.” She couldn’t accept it, she just couldn’t understand it. But she kept pushing it: “But you must have felt some kind of violence hovering, right?” No! Not really. Conflict was which Charlie’s Angel you liked most.

Things have never been great in Jamaica, but our middle-class has been pretty stable for the past 60 years. Nuff people who ran plantations can tell you about who they knew that got murdered. Everyone in the ghetto can tell you who got murdered, but there are actually one or two people who grew up in Havendale, who have never seen a dead body.

LU: Your early exposure came through The Calabash Literary Festival creative writing workshops. How do you feel about future creative writers coming out of Jamaica? Do you think that your success has opened up a wider path for others?

MJ: Whether they like it or not, people are gonna start paying a lot more attention now. The prize that Kei Miller just won cannot be underestimated; it’s a major major deal, and now with the interest in me, people are gonna start going, “Ok, what else is going there?” Are Jamaicans ready for it? I don’t know. People like me and Kei Miller really had to struggle. If it wasn’t for Calabash, I don’t think we could have been here; and not just the Calabash Literary Festival and the workshop, but the networking and the people who spoke for us, who opened up doors—Colin Channer, Kwame Dawes, Justine Henzell. Now we need more people from Jamaica going back to Jamaica and recognizing the talent and nurturing it, because the Calabash workshop made a lot of difference– and it wasn’t just me and Kei, there are people like lshion Hutchinson and Millicent Graham to name a few. That was because that workshop, where people came down for a weekend, changed a lot of people’s lives.